WRCA comes to Eagle Valley Fairgrounds
by Tony Bruguiere
Fort Collins, Colo.
The Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) rode into the Eagle Valley to compete at the recent Vail-Eagle Valley Horse Expo. Besides the event at the Vail-Eagle Valley Horse Expo, Colorado has three other sanctioned WRCA rodeos ” one at Colorado Springs, one at the Denver Horse Expo, and one at Hugo. There are only 24 sanctioned WRCA rodeos a year, so having four sanctioned events in Colorado is quite a coup.
Colorado has plenty of working ranches, and that is what the WRCA is all about ” working ranches and ranch hands. About 13 years ago cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and some of his friends got together and started an organization that would preserve and promote the way of life of the true cowboy. They saw what they considered an American heritage rapidly fading from the conscience of America and being forgotten.
The Working Ranch Cowboys Association is dedicated to preserving ranching and the lifestyle of working ranch cowboys, which are the backbone of our economy and dedicated stewards of our land and livestock. “Dedication” is certainly the word that describes the workers and contestants at the WRCA rodeo held at the Horse Expo.
As long time Colorado rodeo stock contractor Harry Vold put it, “People need to remember that the meat they put on their table didn’t magically appear in the grocery store. It got there by the sweat of some tired, dusty cowboy out on the range.” He went on to say, with passion, “Cowboys on horseback built this country and they are still out there, working just like they did 100 years ago ” it’s our heritage, and something that Americans should be proud of and shouldn’t forget.”
Scotty Hall from Pueblo, Colo., used to compete, but a ranch accident forced him to retire. I asked him why he stayed around Ranch Rodeo, he said, “I stay involved because I want to see this way of life go on ” for my boys and for other kids. I want this way of life to be here when they get my age. As long as it helps this sport go forward in any way, I want to be a part of it.”
So what exactly is Ranch Rodeo and how is it different from the PRCA rodeo? Well, for one thing, you are not going to see any flashy, colorful chaps with flying strings attached. This is strictly cowboy working equipment – work in it Monday thru Friday and rodeo in the same gear on the weekend. There are no special saddles for bronc riding. The contestants use the same saddles they have been sitting in all week back at the ranch.
Because all of the events must relate to something that working cowboys do every day during the course of normal ranch work, there is no bull riding event. The only rough stock event is Saddle Bronc, which is done like it would be on a working ranch – there is no ‘mark out rule’ and form is not scored. The object is to stay on for eight seconds ” “ride as ride can” is the way the WRCA puts it.
The rodeo committee can chose from a number of different events and at the Horse Expo there was Ranch Bronc Riding, Wild Cow Milking, Ranch Branding, Stray Gathering, and Ranch Sorting.
Wild Cow Milking can definitely get a little “western.” A full size, straight off the range, ‘wet’ cow is released at one end of the arena. At the other end are a roper on horseback and three cow hands on foot. The object is to rope the cow, and when the three cowboys on foot catch up, they restrain the cow and the roper releases the rope from the saddle horn (no help from the horse in holding the cow). The milker milks the cow into a standard 12-ounce long neck bottle, passes the bottle to the roper who runs to the judge. The judge pours milk from the bottle ” no milk, no time. Fastest time wins.
Ranch Branding is branding the old fashioned way. One roper rides into a group of calves and mother cows. He must heel a calf and drag it to the ‘fire’, which is a pot filled with chalk. The rest of the team must restrain the calf, remove the rope, and ‘brand’ it with the chalk coated brand. Fastest time on two calves wins.
I can almost hear some of the skeptics saying that “these ranches hire guys that do nothing but rodeo for them.” Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. The event rules may seem a little loose compared to PRCA standards, but the WRCA is extremely strict when it comes to who can compete. While you may see a PRCA card holder competing, he still has to be a working ranch hand like every one else. All participants must be ranch owners, full time employees, or day workers.
The WRCA defines a “working ranch” as having at least 300 head to be eligible for a team permit and a “day worker” must have made at least $1,500 in the year preceding the application by the ranch for a Team Card ” and, they have to be able to prove it. Huge ranches like Haythorn Land and Cattle in Nebraska and The Thompson Ranch in Texas will field teams made entirely of their employees, but smaller ranches with fewer employees are permitted to combine to make up a team.
If you missed the Ranch Rodeo at the Eagle Valley Fairgrounds, there are still two more that will be held in Colorado. The Colorado Championship Ranch Rodeo will be held in Hugo, Colorado on June 27 and 28, and the Ride For The Brand Ranch Rodeo will be in Colorado Springs on July 5.