The last time I competed in the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association was 2012. I know this because the Coor’s Cowboy Club gave all the teams who made it to the finals a handmade piece of jewelry. It was earrings in this case and they have the year on them in gold. In fact I got to attend the finals both times we went to the Coor’s Cowboy Club and it was a top shelf event. Kate Huddleston and I played together both those years – as we did for over 10 years. One year Becca Gagan and Kelsey Love Thomas played with us and the other Melissa Benson and Tamara Smith.

So it’s been a few days since I saw what the association looks like. While the girls were tough and handy in 2012, to quote The Gunslinger “the world has moved on.” I was asked to play this year, and it wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t admit I jumped at the chance. These gals are younger and handier than I am, but I thought maybe I could hold a spot.

Things have gotten quite a bit tougher. Kelsey went on to win World’s Greatest Horsewoman twice. She is still playing as well as Whitney Hall who has won the title once. There are various college rodeo champions, a champion women’s ranch bronc rider, women who run their own ranch or their own camp on a ranch, there is a Windy Ryon roping champion; then there are the hardknockers – penriders, feedlot hands and dayworkers. It’s a deep bench – what used to be a creek is now the ocean. We had nine teams (another was entered that was not able to make it) in four rodeos over two days. That meant each team competed in 16 events. There were few no times and the few there were happened because the situation was not workable; just like happens on the ranch sometimes.

The very first event I was ever to work with these girls turned out to be tying down a steer. The rules say the team can just head that steer then mug him to tie, but you can heel him if you choose. My theory has always been – and much more so as I have gotten older – we have perfectly good ropes. Let’s just rope both ends and use them to lay him down. Then go tie him. In the early years when we were young and dumb, we had some girls who could throw steers like bulldoggers, and my teammate Keisha decided we should do that. Our teammate Sadie would head the steer, Keisha would get his head and by this time her sister Bobbie would be there, they’d throw him and I would tie him with help from Sadie of course, because by then she would be down there with us, too.

Our first clue should have been all the teams before us heeled the steer. We also should have looked at the steers a little better. They were Corrientes that will some day be worn out roping steers, but that day they were fat and slick and fresh. As the song says, “sometimes things don’t go like they should.” Oh – I might need to mention Keisha had to start the season late because she’d had back surgery. If Rex Dunn was still with us and raised some roping steers, they would be just like the one we drew.

Turned out Bobbie roped the steer. He bounced around until Keisha got hold of the rope and while she was going down it, he stood stock still. I’m thinking she’s right, we are going to be quick, he’s going to take throwing. She got a hand on a horn before the fighting started. He picked her right straight up in the air and she slammed the ground. That may have been when he stepped in the middle of her forehead. Slow as I am, I finally got there to help and we both went down the rope. He mowed us both over. Bobbie was trying her best to do all she could with her rope, but the steer was like a pinwheel and she was doing her best to keep us all out of being wrapped in rope. Next time Keisha got on his head, she held on and I got his tail. Sadie came to get a leg and by now Bobbie was on the ground and we tied him. I had no idea anything had happened to Keisha. She and Bobbie were walking out together and I was gathering horses and ropes.

When I got outside, I realized something had happened. The first time I saw Keisha she had a tampon up each nostril. A nurse who was on site (funny aside, Keisha is also a nurse) was icing her forehead where the steer had stepped. At first there was a knot about the size of my fist. It was almost time for the next event, and Keisha didn’t miss that one or any of the others all weekend. That first day she played all day with vet wrap around her forehead and tampons up her nose. We tied another steer that day and two more the next. We had only one no-time each day. One was my fault and the other may have been. Sounds pretty good? Well there were several teams who had not one no time – teams that didn’t even place. That’s where the level of play has gotten to in WRRA.

I have spent my life with cowboys and people who are pretty tough. None are tougher than my teammate. And she never let on even a little bit that she was hurting and brother I know she was. She was laughing, having a good time, encouraging us all to do better and saying how much fun she was having. The two of us perfected a sorting technique. She roped heads and heels and smiled all the time – even with strings hanging out her nose. The picture I have shared is two days after it happened. She said she was doing fine that day, but she was scaring her patients.

We go again less than two weeks from today. Keisha may or may not still have black eyes, but I can bet you she will be smiling. And for sure I bet you we will be heeling the steers to tie down!!

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