Big Bend rodeo showcases real ranch life

A cowboy takes a call while horseback Saturday afternoon during the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo in Alpine.

ALPINE – The nineteenth annual Big Bend Ranch Rodeo kicked off this weekend, bringing record crowds and a family-friendly bent to a longstanding Texas tradition. Competitors in the rodeo came from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma, with the Rocker b Ranch from Barnhart, TX ultimately claiming the title of 2019 BBRR Champions.

“The biggest difference between a ranch rodeo and a pro rodeo is that the cowboys who perform in a ranch rodeo are actual working cowboys who make a living working on a ranch, doing the same things at the rodeo that they do every day for a living,” said Chachi Hawkins, who serves as a committee member for the ranch rodeo and is a rancher herself.

The ranch rodeo turned out roughly 700 attendees on Saturday night, with competitors participating in bronc riding, team doctoring, team branding, cattle-cutting (cowboys on horseback separate a calf from the herd) and wild cow milking. Hawkins contrasted pro rodeo events to the weekend’s rodeo event. “There’s no bull riding, team roping, steer wrestling on a ranch. What happens at a ranch rodeo happens in everyday life on a ranch.”

Wendell Barrett, a member of the Working Ranch Cowboys Association, attended the rodeo this year. The WRCA sanctions the rodeo, and the organization’s foundation funds rodeo scholarships for ranch kids and supports cowboys and their families when they face hardships. Meanwhile, all of The Big Bend Ranch Rodeo’s proceeds go to supporting Sul Ross Rodeo students through their education.

Barrett competed in some professional rodeo competitions in his younger years, and highlighted that pro rodeo culture often centers around macho competition, followed by a night of drinking and occasional fighting. What Barrett likes so much about ranch rodeos, in contrast to professional rodeos, is the family-centric atmosphere.

Saturday afternoon’s 18 and under competitions showed off the rich ranching lineage of the tri-county area; every ranch family that competed came from the area, except one from Fort Stockton.

Gage Choate, whose family ranches on the o6 Kokernot Ranch, won first in the Youth Working Cowhorse Competition’s Senior Event. Later in the afternoon, the WRCA awarded him a $500.00 scholarship for each semester throughout his lifetime in college, which will include his undergraduate, masters and doctorate. In true family fashion, Choate’s younger brothers also claimed top accolades and will go on to the Amarillo WRCA World Finals later this year. Their proud mother Kyle Peebles cheered them along, while working on her fifteenth year volunteering with BBRR.

Though six year olds competed and families ate snacks in the stands, the dangers of rodeo were not fully obscured. Two ambulances remained in the parking lot throughout. As men competed in bronc riding, many would come within inches of taking a bucking hoof to the chest, and one Friday night bronc ride ended in the demise of a horse.

Hawkins called it the biggest freak accident in the BBRR’s 19-year run. During one of the night’s many eight second bronc rides, a horse broke its leg. Its rider told Hawkins that even after reviewing the footage, there was no visible explanation of what caused the horse’s injury.

The ailing horse was pulled from the arena. The on-call vet arrived on scene and assessed the injury, but often when horses break legs, euthanizing is the recommended course of action. The dismayed crowd learned that the horse was euthanized on the spot. It was a dark moment in an otherwise rousing weekend of West Texas entertainment.

Rusty (right) and Averi Garlick of Alpine stand for the Pledge of Allegiance Saturday at the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo.

A spectator watches the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo as the sun sets Saturday evening.

A cowboy rides his horse prior to competing in Saturday night’s ranch rodeo.

Aiden Mellard waits to compete in the Youth Working Cow Horse Competition at the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo in Alpine.

A saddle bronc rider competes in the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo at the S.A.L.E. arena in Alpine.

Mutton bustin’ champion Case Kington, 6, smiles for a portrait prior to riding Saturday night.