There are professional cowboys, and there are Professional Cowboys. The latter are the shining stars of the upcoming Clovis Rodeo. They travel the country and make their living in an arena, front of a cheering crowd.
The former, the professional cowboys without the capital letters, do the job daily without an audience, and do most of their traveling on horseback. For them, roping, riding and catching cattle are daily tasks. This is the group who turned out on Big Hat Day to match skills at the Clovis Ranch Rodeo.
A mainstay of Clovis rodeo month for more than ten years, the ranch rodeo has its roots in the skills and abilities that working cowboys and ranchers need to do their job.
“Ranch rodeo was started to show off the ranching events that take place every day out on ranches across this country,” said Clovis Rodeo Association Director Mark Thompson. Thompson also served as the announcer for the event.
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Cowboys (and cowgirls) enter as teams of four. Some of the events, like the team doctoring, involve all four team members. Others, like the ranch trail or cutting classes, are broken up among one or two team members. The idea is to draw upon the talents of each member of the team.
“We think we have a pretty good line up of classes, “ said Thompson. “It’s structured so that everyone has a chance to win something.”
Thompson pointed to a nearby team resting in the shade between classes. “These guys do this all week long. This is just another day at the office for them.”
The ranch rodeo included some fun awards, as well. John Boschi, 63, won the prize for Oldest Cowboy for the day.
Riders competed in eleven events, all highlighting the working partnership between cowboy and horse. Cattle were roped, sorted, branded and doctored. Horses were run through routines to demonstrate their speed and agility.
What may be day-to-day work for the competitors made for an enjoyable show for the Big Hat Day crowd who wandered over to the arena. Several hundred people stopped by the watch the riding and roping. Heidi Reidle and Pete Gustafson live in Old Town Clovis, walking distance from the rodeo grounds.
“We saw it a few years ago and just got hooked,” said Gustafson. “It’s real cowboys doing real work. “
Reidle added that she enjoys seeing the partnership between the riders and their animals. “I really like seeing the horses and cowboys working together, doing what they do best,” she said.
One of those pairs was competitor Scott Wolf and his 10-year-old palomino gelding, Peanut. A working cowboy during the week, Wolf ropes, sorts and cuts cattle on a daily basis. Nevertheless, he has a good time competing in the ranch rodeo events. “It’s a fun event, “ said Wolf, “A chance to come to town and have some fun.”
Wolf said the team doctoring class is his favorite. This event tests the skills needed to catch and care for a steer on the range. Two of the team members are ropers – the “header” ropes the steer’s head and the “heeler” ropes the hind feet. The other two team members work on the ground, stretching the steer onto its side, then marking its forehead with a paint marker. Wolf and Peanut were the heelers for the day.
After the team doctoring, the pair headed off to compete in the ranch trail class, a kind of western obstacle course for cowboys and horses. Together they crossed a bridge, rode over a tarp, opened some gates and moved some calves. Despite his skill and experience, Wolf said his team chose him for the trail event because of Peanut. “I have the most gentle horse.”
They are also setting an example for the next generation of riders. Wolf has four young sons who came out to watch their dad at the rodeo, and they may well follow in his footsteps. “They’re still pretty little,” he said, “but they’re already packing ropes around.”
Competitor and former Clovis Rodeo Queen Debbie Valdero-Tweedy agreed the day is a family event for competitors, as well as the crowd. She competed on a team that included her husband and brother-in-law, as well as a close family friend.
“It’s a great event, very family oriented,” said Valdero-Tweedy. “That’s really what this is about – ranching families in the Clovis area getting together to show off their skills.”