Working both ends of the arena

Sep 9, 2011

Traci Butler with her parents, Twister and Sandy Heller from Arizona. Photo courtesy of Bristi Cure.

If a ‘Top Hand Award’ was given for the production of a Ranch Bronc Riding, Traci Butler of Guthrie, TX would take home the buckle. Butler works both ends of the arena, not on horseback, but as the event ‘coordinator’ hustling from the crow’s nest to the stands then dashing back to the sidelines to get a glimpse of the action.

Never professing to be a bronc stomper, Butler knows the ins and outs of the sport beginning with the organization of the competition. She knows the hallmarks of a good bronc, ‘ducking and diving’ while watching each ride. Butler can also be found amidst stacks of paperwork necessary to put on the Tom Butler Memorial Bronc Ride (TBMBR) that she and her husband, Kelly, created to honor their son who was tragically killed in a vehicle accident six years ago. The bronc ride generates funds for scholarships in Tom’s behalf.

Butler’s energy, passion and inner strength, combined with her ranching background, enable Butler to put her heart and soul into a project that has impacted many lives.

“I grew up on the Diamond A’s near Seligman, AZ. We did everything ranch kids do horseback: rope, work cattle, plus we got to rodeo and 4-H. I loved it all,” said Butler. “Kelly and I met when he worked for the RO’s outside of Prescott , AZ. We got married and stayed in a little house in the country with no telephone. When Kelly went out with the wagon for three months, I had to write him a letter telling him I was pregnant! I’ve never lived in town; I don’t think I could.

"Growing up in Arizona, I admired women married to cowboys, living 25-30 miles off the highway on a ranch without the luxuries that town provides. They work right alongside their husbands, fencing, checking water, working cattle, keeping house, raising kids and enjoying the land and livestock. These women love their families and the ranching way of life.”

The Butlers moved from Arizona to Tongue River Ranch near Paducah, TX, where their sons Tom and Pat were born. Butler values the importance of making a good home for her family. At Tongue River, she wrangled kids, cooked for the ranch and learned to braid rawhide. Kelly would recruit her when extra help was needed feeding, riding young horses and working cattle. The family now lives at Kelly’s home place near Guthrie. They run cattle and Kelly day works and shoes horses.

Tom and Pat started making short drives with their dad when they were 4 years old, and started day working when they were 12. Kelly always expected his sons to work like men even though they were young. The hours were long, the country was rough, and the work was hard.

“I feel my boys have always been very gifted with horses. Tom loved starting colts, riding young horses and cowboying. At 15, Tom was the youngest competitor to ever qualify for the RHAA [Ranch Horse Association of America] finals,” Butler explained. “Whether it was sports, academics or horses, he believed that if you can’t put your whole heart into it, you shouldn’t be doing it. Tom was valedictorian and loved all the things about high school; academics, sports, 4H, FFA . . . Plus the social aspects! He attended Texas Tech majoring in Ag business and Ag economics.”

“Pat and his wife, Cassidy, live at Pitchfork Ranch near Guthrie. Pat starts lots of colts, but that’s not his passion. He enjoys it, and does a good job, but figures there’s a colt around every corner. He loves cowboying and craves riding broncs. The boys always looked out for each other.”

Tom loved riding broncs also. In 2005, Tom won the Open Ranch Bronc Riding at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association World Finals in Amarillo. After Tom passed away, a friend spoke to the Butlers about an idea for a memorial bronc ride. They started looking at arenas, getting sponsors and donors, and arranging for the stock contractor. TBMBR became a reality thanks to his idea and help from countless people in a very giving community.

With wheels in motion to orchestrate a bronc ride, Butler worked establishing a scholarship fund for any student, not just bronc riders, going into an agricultural profession. The scholarship is funded by 100 percent of the TBMBR profit, sales of TBMBR’s ‘Ridin High Butler Style’ apparel, and generous donations and sponsorships.

Scholarships range from $250 to $1,000/year. Recipients have increased from five to 35 since 2006. Butler explained that helping Tom with college scholarship applications, her 11 years employment for the King County Extension Service and current King County treasurer position helped her tremendously in the organization of the scholarship and preparation for TBMBR.

The TBMBR, along with Jordan Valley in Oregon and Cowpunchers in Arizona, has become one of the three most prestigious events for ranch bronc riding. Previous riders traveling from five states know the caliber of the stock is exceptional and gives every cowboy his chance to get bucked off. Attendance has grown from 500 to 2,500 in five years. Entries are limited to 30 riders in the open, 15 in the rookie, and 15 kids in the real crowd pleaser . . . The Shetland Bronc Ride.

JK Rodeo Company from Pecos, TX, furnishes the open broncs. Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association stock contractor and owner Jim Kinney said the event is outstanding, special, and gets more professional and competitive every year. 3 Lazy S Rodeo Company from Post, TX, furnishes the rookie broncs. Traci and Kelly bring their fine string of pint sized buckers to the Shetland division.

The caliber of broncs and amount of earnings awarded is exceptional at the TBM- BR. Payback is 100 percent to the winners. Handmade spurs, bits, gear and buckles plus cash payouts are awarded to riders placing in all divisions. Last year’s winner of the open division took home $3,000 and a handmade bronc saddle valued at $3,500. Contestants can free hand or hold onto the horn. A night latch is not allowed. Cowboys agree the bar has been raised each year for riders and broncs.

The sixth annual TBMBR will be held on Oct. 15, 2011, at the Post Stampede Rodeo Grounds south of Lubbock, TX. A Calcutta begins at 11 am followed by the bronc ride at noon. Entries are now being taken. Information can be found at www.tom Chuckwagon cooking and vendors will be at the grounds throughout the day. Jake Hooker and the Outsiders will play their signature western swing music for a dance held Saturday evening.

Beyond providing financial assistance to collegebound seniors and producing a day of exciting bronc riding, Butler said the TBMBR has given her something to focus on after Tom’s death.

“It was started for scholarships and a way to honor Tom, but it has given me something to hold onto. I don’t know how folks deal with these losses without something to focus on,” Butler said.

“I get phone calls plus lots of emails to our website. Some are inquiries about putting on this type of event.

"Some comment about the event. Other correspondence is from people sharing their own losses. And I get emails from folks that knew Tom. I like to think I have given a way to share with other parents, help other people. The Tom Butler Memorial Bronc Ride is a way of making something good out of something sad. It’s a positive thing for our family. I think about the bronc ride every day. And I think about Tom every day,” said Butler. — Ginger Elliott, WLJ Correspondent