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v v CHAPTER 4 The Rodeo T he biggest event of the year was the annual Boys Ranch Rodeo. The rodeo, always held over the Labor Day weekend, drew thousands of spectators. The younger boys rode small calves. The older boys rode bulls and bareback horses. Animals were assigned based on age, and I was old enough to ride a steer, or a young bull. I was petrified , but if a boy didn’t ride, he would be called a coward. Rodeo practice was three days a week during the summer. The better , more advanced riders were selected to ride in the two-­ day event and were eligible to compete for the highest honors: Junior and Senior All-­ Around Cowboy. The winners received awards, and their pictures appeared on the front page of the Amarillo Globe-­News. The top three contestants in each event won cowboy belt buckles. The top twelve best riders in the rodeo became members of the Honor Patrol, and there were two alternates, so fourteen in total. Members of the Honor Patrol rode twelve beautiful palomino horses, all direct descendants of Roy Rogers’s famous horse, Trigger. One of Trigger’s sons was in a train wreck, and one of his front hooves had been cut in half, so Roy Rogers donated the injured horse as a stud to Boys Ranch. Over time we had some beautiful palomino horses to ride. The Honor Patrol dressed alike, wearing shiny dark-­ blue shirts, new white cowboy hats, and white chaps with a “BR” (Boys Ranch) brand in blue stitched in the middle of the chaps. Our saddles were alike, and the horse blankets were blue with the BR symbol on each corner. The Honor Patrol rode in parades and the grand entry of rodeos every weekend across the Texas Panhandle. It was one of the highest honors 28 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch at the ranch. In those days, nearly every town in the Panhandle had a parade and rodeo. The highlight of that first summer at the ranch was when we found out that Honey and our grandparents were coming to see us for the Boys Ranch Rodeo. Honey’s mother and father were like parents to my brothers and me. I had ridden only five steers that summer, but somehow I made the cut. I would ride on rodeo day, with my grandparents and Honey in the stands. Finally, I’d be able to see my whole family at the same time. On Saturday of the rodeo weekend, my brothers and I raced to the ranch office. Honey and my grandparents were waiting for us. Honey wore a long green dress and high heels and looked so beautiful; I ran up and hugged her, and we both cried. We all piled into her green Ford to give her and my grandparents a tour of the ranch. She asked us if we were happy and if they were treating us OK. We told her we were fine. If we told her the truth, she would complain to the staffers and we’d get in trouble. We showed them everything : our dorm rooms, where we ate, the chapel, and where I milked the cows. I was so excited to show her the green ribbon I had won in track. At the end of the day, my grandparents and Honey had to leave just before dinner—­ we would not see them until the next day. We all cried as they drove off. I went to bed that night holding my prized possession: a picture of Honey. None of the older boys were going to take that from me. The next day they all came back to Boys Ranch for the rodeo. We were so excited to have them there for our big event. Hoping it would make Honey proud, I wanted to do well in the competition. When the time came for me to ride, I climbed up on the chute. A staffer lifted me by my belt and placed me on the back of the steer. Then the chute gate opened. Keeping one hand in the air and one on the rope, I had to hang on for eight seconds. I surprised myself by placing second in steer riding and winning a place on the Honor Patrol. I was so pleased about placing in the rodeo. I knew it was only luck, but it sure felt good when other boys would come up and slap me on...


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