Ram pickups pulling elaborate horse trailers and toting world-class ropers and steer wrestlers have left Pecos, Texas, and Reno, Nev., and are making their ways to locales all across North America.
Theyâ€™re meeting other rigs and customized vans toting bull riders, saddle bronc riders and bareback riders.
This is Cowboy Christmas, the busiest time of the ProRodeo season. It features numerous rodeos located all across the United States and Canada, and each stop offers something for every contestant who makes a living in the sport.
The major stops include Prescott, Ariz.; Window Rock, Ariz.; Cody, Wyo.; Greeley, Colo.; Springdale, Ark.; Molalla, Ore.; St. Paul, Ore.; Livingston, Mont.; and Red Lodge, Mont., just to name a few. The commonality between them is the enticement of large paydays and many miles in between.
â€śThe Fourth is really tough because youâ€™re going on little to no sleep and spend most of your time getting from one place to another,â€ť said Taos Muncy, a two-time world champion saddle bronc rider and one of the key members of the Tate Branch Auto Group team of ProRodeo cowboys. â€śA lot of things can happen, good and bad. Iâ€™ve had terrible Fourths where Iâ€™ve won nothing. Thatâ€™s real humbling.â€ť
As a roughstock cowboy, Muncy and his traveling posse donâ€™t have to haul their own horses. The timed-event cowboys do. No matter the traveling arrangements, the logistics of getting from one place to another can be nightmarish.
Itâ€™s something all cowboys must face, including others on the â€śRiding for the Brandâ€ť team: tie-down roping brothers Clif and Clint Cooper and their legendary father, Roy Cooper; steer roper Marty Jones; and team roping twins Jake and Jim Ross Cooper. All have ties to southeastern New Mexico, just like the Tate Branch Auto Group, which has dealerships in Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs.
Though New Mexico is always home, the Tate Branch Auto Group Cowboys will spend the next few weeks on the rodeo trail. They all rodeo for a living and need every dollar they can win, but thereâ€™s much more to it. Dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most earnings at the conclusion of the season wins the world championâ€™s gold buckle.
Oftentimes, timed-event hands will have more than one rig on the road during the hectic portion of the season to make sure they capitalize on as many opportunities as possible. That also showcases their talent in riding more than one horse at a time. But having more than one customized vehicle on the road is also helpful to Muncy and his traveling crew.
Right now, for example, he is in the van owned by traveling partner Tyrel Larsen, while Muncyâ€™s is in northern Colorado. Theyâ€™ll fly around to several places before returning to Greeley for the Stampede, then moving on to other rodeos.
â€śFor me, the heavy part of the summer run is from the end of June to the end of July,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ll go straight through the next few weeks then on to Calgary (Alberta). Iâ€™ll be going every single day from now until the 13th of July, getting on one to two broncs a day.â€ť
Thatâ€™s just how hectic things can get over a short period of time. When it works out, itâ€™s phenomenal. Muncy has won more than $30,000 over a few days centered around the Fourth of July holiday.
The Corona, N.M., cowboy has been among the top five in the world standings for much of the 2015 season. A recent dry spell has given him even more incentive to make things happen over the next few days.
â€śEverything was going really good until last weekend,â€ť said Muncy, who won the college title in 2007, then followed that with world titles in 2007 and 2011. â€śI went to four rodeos and just had a lot of bad luck. It was just one of those weekends, but those things can turn around. When youâ€™re on fire, you better keep entering and go with the flow. It can turn around quick. Youâ€™ve got to be able to handle the highs and the lows.â€ť
Thatâ€™s the way the rodeo rolls. Itâ€™s why the Tate Branch Auto Group cowboys lean on the support they get from the dealerships and the rest of the team involved.
â€śYou just have to stay positive and go with the flow,â€ť Muncy said. â€śSometimes you have to show up late and get on, but when you get there, you try hard and give it your best. Thatâ€™s all you can ask.â€ť
Thatâ€™s how more gold buckles are crafted.