“Last year was the third year, and each year seems to generate more spectators,” says Bill Reynolds about the annual Wrangler Brannaman Pro-Am Vaquero Roping held at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center in Santa Ynez, California—a unique roping competition he co-produces with the event’s namesake, Buck Brannaman. “It also seemed to energize the competitors who pushed us to enlarge it.”
In 2015, 100 teams roped in the event. This year that number has been increased considerably to 150 teams and the event will run October 20-23.
“Last year was the first time we had online registration,” Bill says. “Reata [Brannaman] and Nevada [Watt] had set up a website, www.ProAmRoping.com. We thought we’d be dramatic and we said [registration would begin online at] midnight, June the 15th. Well, by 6:00 that morning it was full.”
This year Bill says they are not going to make folks stay up half the night to register. Their website www.ProAmRoping.com will start taking entries at noon Mountain Time on June 1, 2016.
“We had 22 vendors last year,” Bill says. “We’ll have about the same this year. We don’t charge spectators any fees. It just seems to be an answer—not only for the competitors but the spectators—to be in a very communal setting.”
The setup at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center is basically an arena inside of an arena which allows for spectators to come and mingle around the pens where the competitors are horseback. This makes it easy for people to go up and chat with the ropers.
“The principal purpose, if we had to put it into a phrase in stock handling, is the whole idea of ‘slow is fast,’” Bill says. “And that people have an opportunity to see some pretty seriously wonderful horses operate. People are welcomed to go and talk to the various competitors, and Buck and Reata and everybody will take the time to sit there and explain about the gear, will explain about the process, explain about where this vaquero culture came from.
“It’s one of the reasons why we have it here in Santa Ynez, because this central coast area really is the ground zero for the vaquero culture and the bridle horse culture. Continuing this tradition and allowing access to people who are very inviting to say, ‘If you’d like to get involved with this we’re here to help you,’ [is important] because, there’s no way a tradition continues without inviting new people to participate. We really look at this as an opportunity to be ambassadors. If there’s formidable teaching here, it goes back into the Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt approach.”
Aside from displaying and sharing bridle horse traditions with others, another good reason for ropers to come and compete in Santa Ynez is the potential for a decent paycheck. The Wrangler Brannaman Pro-Am Vaquero Roping now is the highest paying ranch roping in the country.
“The only criticism we’ve had was that it ended too quickly,” Bill says, “which, that’s a nice problem. I have to hand it to Reata—Reata brings this crew from Montana with her. They’re kids her age and they run this thing like a military operation. She has done an incredible job making this a happy place where people help out, clean up after themselves, simply because they enjoy being there. I hand it to her troops.”
And, of course, paired up with some of the best ropers and stockmen on the planet at this event are an impressive display of some of the world’s finest ranch horses.
“It is utmost in our minds that the horses are heroes here,” Bill says. “Watching them operate and watching these very skilled riders work with them, it really does become a dance. We have a wonderful cattle provider, Pacific Livestock, who has done a superb job providing really well-matched sets of cattle. We’re extremely careful about them.”
When asked about how this roping event got organized in the first place in the unusual arrangement of a pro-am model, Bill explains that it was Buck’s idea.
“It probably wouldn’t have presented itself as obviously if Mr. Brannaman wasn’t really a closet, fervent, passionate golfer,” he says. “The fact that everywhere he goes between clinics he’s golfing, the idea of the pro-am concept made a lot of sense to him.”
A big attraction for the amateur teams is always finding out which pros they are going to get to rope with, Bill says. Two-man amateur teams are assigned one pro who is invited by Buck to participate and round out the third man of each team. No one knows which pro they will get to rope with until the day they show up for the event.
“We literally pull it out of a hat,” Bill says. “Each pro will rope with five teams, so we have to increase the number of pros to 30 this year.”
More than 20 vendors again will be on hand for this year’s show. Most of the vendors are regulars who return each year and they all sell gear or goods that are classy and fit with the traditional western theme of the event.
Again this year the roping will be home to the Fusion Show.
“Last year we had the first Fusion Show that Nevada put together,” Bill says. “It just…[he chuckles and pauses]…we had to nail the roof back down! With the diversity of the vendors, the Fusion Show, the increased numbers of ropers, it’s going to be that much more interesting for spectators to come. And once again, it’s free. Folks should visit www.ProAmRoping.com to learn as much as they can.