New ranch rodeo association to promote high profile event for working class cowboys

Apr 2, 2010

Spring’s coming on, and that means rodeo season is getting underway. For many small ranching communities across the West, the real meaning of "rodeo" is ranch-hand rodeo, where working men and women get to put their cowboying skills to the test in team branding, team doctoring, stock saddle bronc riding, and other true working events not typically seen in large-scale commercial-type productions.

What’s different this year is that a new working cowboy’s rodeo association has emerged onto the scene to give many of these hard working cowboys the recognition they deserve.

The Western States Ranch Rodeo Association (WSRRA) is the outcome of several years of discussions, brainstorming and soul searching by a group of working cowboys and like-minded individuals who wanted to form a rodeo association that would be open not only to teams of full-time cowboys representing major ranches, but also to the day workers and part-time cowboys who often represent some of the finest talent in the business. The founders of WSRRA also wanted their organization to have a regional focus on the western states. Whereas the highly successful Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) ranch-hand rodeo events have traditionally been held in Texas and neighboring states, with the WRCA finals in Amarillo, the WSRRA finals will be held in Winnemucca, NV, in the heart of Great Basin buckaroo country.

WSRRA has a distinctly open door policy. Any cowboy, full time, part-time, or otherwise, may become a member of WSRRA, and any assorted group of cowboys can form a team. However, WSRRA will have a decidedly western focus, seeking to represent the cowboying style of the Great Basin, California, and the Intermountain West. This will be particularly emphasized at the 2010 WSRRA finals on Nov. 5-7 in Winnemucca, where distinctly buckaroo-style rules will be observed. Dallying will be mandatory, and all horns must be "slick," i.e. they must be wrapped in mule or elk hide as opposed to rubber. No tie downs will be permitted.

Explains Marc Page, a WSRRA founder, "That’s just the tradition of the Great Basin buckaroos, [and] vaqueros from California. All the cowboys in the West, the real working cowboys, are roping on a slick horn. Pretty much traditionally across the West, people do things in the old buckaroo style."

The point is not to discourage cowboys from other regions from participating. But in addition to creating a venue where all working cowboys can compete, preservation and recognition of the distinctive cowboy heritage of the western regional U.S. is part of the mission WSRRA has set for itself. Though cowboys from any part of the country are invited to join, Page emphasizes that "When they come to the finals, they are going to be on a slick horn, dallied, no tying off. End of story."

Team events at the finals are likely to include team branding, sort and rope doctoring, wild mugging, slick-horn team roping and slick-horn calf roping, among others. Individual events will include stock saddle bronc riding, women’s steer stopping, and a working ranch horse class. In addition, the finals will also feature a separate jackpot big loop roping and a junior/senior team branding as demonstration events to showcase the regional cowboying style and encourage family participation.

Currently for the 2010 rodeo season, WSRRA has 25 sanctioned rodeos and eight bronc ridings across the states of California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. They are looking to sanction more, and any rodeo in the western region is welcome to apply to have their event sanctioned. At this time, there are no set requirements for becoming sanctioned, and sanctioned rodeos have no obligation to change their rules, have particular events, or a particular scoring system. Page explained that at the outset, WSRRA is simply interested in getting rodeos on board with the association. A set list of events and a scoring system for sanctioned rodeos is expected to evolve over time.

Says Page, "My vision of this thing will eventually be a standardized set of events with a standardized set of rules. But it’s going to come from the guys that are competing, ’cause they’re going to be the ones that want to do it, and they’re going to tell the [rodeo] producers."

For the present, WSRRA will use the straight-forward approach of immediately qualifying winning teams and individual event winners of sanctioned rodeos for the finals. Although individuals and teams can compete in and win as many sanctioned rodeos as they want, they can only qualify for the finals once.

Regarding the open-ended policy for sanctioning rodeos, Page explained that the aim is simply to get the ball rolling. "Any western rodeo can sanction with WSRRA, regardless of rules," says Page. Rubber horns, tie downs, and the like are all fair game. However, winning teams and individuals who qualify for the finals should be prepared to cowboy Great Basin style when they come to Winnemucca for the finals.

The first WSRRA sanctioned event has already made a major impression. The 21st Winnemucca Ranch Hand Rodeo, held the first week of March, represented a high-profile debut for WSRRA sanctioned events. Thirty teams and many individuals competed at the Winnemucca Events Center with the 101 Ranch taking top honors, and Jim Daxon winning bragging rights as top hand. (See full results at

Page’s intent is for the WSRRA finals, scheduled in November at the same venue, to be even bigger. "I want people to understand that this is not just about one little backyard community ranch rodeo. This is about a bigger picture," Page explains. The finals will also feature a "Buckaroo Christmas" trade show featuring fine hand-crafted cowboy gear and arts. Demand for space has been high. At this time, all 57 vendor booths in the Event Complex have already been rented out for the event.

Page’s hope is that the Winnemucca WSRRA finals will become a major regional event for working cowboys, ranchers, rodeo-lovers, and the general public.

"The only thing missing in our deal out here in the West ... is exposure," explains Page. "The talent’s not missing, the cattle aren’t missing, the heritage isn’t missing. The only thing that;s missing is the fact that nobody’s ever said, ‘Hey, here we are, we’re in the West, and this is what we do. We’re pretty dang proud of it.’ "

But if the WSRRA has anything to say about it, this is about to change. And if the swelling interest in the culture of the Great Basin and California cowboy is any sign, the WSRRA finals are going to be a major event.

To Page, that’s the whole idea. "Basically," he says, "this is going to be the Amarillo of the West."

To visit the WSRRA website, go to For information on joining WSRRA or having an event sanctioned, call (916) 296-2326 or email at — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent