A different side of rodeo


A lot goes into the making of a great rodeo, and in White Deer, they seem to have perfected that recipe over its 65 years. It all begins with the crew that organizes the rodeo from the start, in this case, the White Deer Riding Club. This year’s committee consists of president, Karl Vigil, vice President, Jared Guerrero, secretary, Rick Armstrong, Treasurer Justin Freeman, arena director Jimmy King, over 20 active club members and over 30 additional senior members that help and offer advice. The club brings together all the other parts, from the stock contractor to the end of evening entertainment and all the guys in between who work inside and outside the arena, there’s a reason it’s called a ‘rodeo family’ because it takes a village to organize it.

The animals are by and far the biggest part of any rodeo. This year’s stock contractor was Todd Cook of the Flying C Rodeo Country out of Madill, Oklahoma. For him, this is the family business and he has been doing it his entire life, serving White Deer’s rodeo specifically for ten years. It’s safe to say so much experience in the rough stock business has paid off, as this year’s crop of broncs and bulls were some of the best on the rodeo scene. The challenge level was set to maximum effort, as hardly any cowboys completed their eight-second ride on Saturday night, with many bucking horses blowing, spinning, and leaping their way to victory over their rider. Cook’s favorite event is saddle bronc riding, so it’s no wonder he takes so much pride in procuring and providing the best broncs he can. We also saw ropers and bulldoggers struggle with faster and tougher steers.

There to keep the crowd informed about every second of the action is the announcer, Ken Stonecipher, from Guymon, Oklahoma. Stonecipher has been a pro rodeo announcer for 25 years.

“I use to get in trouble for talking too much in school,” Stonecipher said. “I finally figured out a way to get paid for it.”

When he isn’t commentating on a rodeo, Stonecipher can be found participating in them as a team roper, though he says his favorite event to watch is the bronc riding.

“team roping is like picking your nose,” said Stonecipher. “Everybody likes to do it but nobody likes to watch.”

Although, his favorite part about being a pro rodeo announcer, he says, is the people you meet; making relationships, and building the rodeo family from lifetime friendships. He also enjoys just getting to be a part of something so personal to each town.

“I get to go to every big weekend,” Stonecipher said. “It’s fun to take part in these celebrations and be a part of it.”

Stoncipher tips his hat to all the sponsors that make the rodeo what it is and says hats off to the hard-working committee and everyone involved that make the rodeo happen. He leaves off with some advice for anyone aspiring to be an announcer: Get as much mic time as you can. Work with the FFA, junior rodeos, or even just playdates. Spend time around stock contractors and people who can help you learn the business and get the knowledge of every aspect of the sport and all the events.

“You’re explaining to the crowd, many of whom maybe don’t go to rodeos very often, how the events work and how they’re scored, so that knowledge is important to how the competition works, but it also has to be fun,” said Stoncipher. “Entertainment is our number one job.”

Another entertainer the announcer often works with is the rodeo clown. This year’s arena personality was Cameron Keaton. Rodeo fans can be sure to expect the unexpected with Keaton in the arena. It seems that no two performances are alike. Saturday night brought us an explosive photography skit, complete with smoke and gunfire. The crowd was never lacking in entertainment between the skits and quick wit of the combined talents of Keaton and Stoncipher.

Often confused with the rodeo clowns, because of their attire and makeup, are the bullfighters. Make no mistake, what these guys do in the arena is no joke. The job of the bullfighter is to be fast on his feet, using his flair and bright colors to distract the rampaging bull away from the rider once dismounted. This allows the rider a quick and safe escape. Bullfighters need to be agile and smart to hold the attention of the bull while maintaining a safe distance and still be ready to dodge should the bull make a charge. The bullfighters are also the first ones to rush in to rescue a rider that may be caught up on the rigging holding them to the bull, in an attempt to dislodge them.

The mantle of such a dangerous job was held this year by Dalton Yeats. While Yeats may be the only one in his family who has gotten into rodeo, he has been doing this for ten years now. His rodeo career began riding bulls before becoming the man on the ground leading them away from his compadres. It’s been a rough ten years of rodeo for Yeats, full of broken bones and every injury you can imagine, but his presence is much appreciated by those he has saved from far graver injuries.

Alongside the bullfighter in the arena, you’ll see men on horseback, using ropes and whips to herd the bulls, broncs and steers toward the exit gate, leading them back to the pens containing their herd. These are referred to as pick-ups, the crew of which this year consisted of Gage Hoganson, Matt Hoganson and TJ Bohlender. The job of the pickup men is similar to that of the bullfighter as well, in that they often rescue or ‘pick-up’ riders from the backs of the bucking horses, bringing them to safety before leading the animals out of the arena. This job requires nerves of steel to be so up close in the action, often even closer to the dangerous kicks of those bucking horses than the riders. A good, well broke horse is also a must, as the pickup rider needs to have full confidence in his mount to be able to brave the rampaging animals as well.

Rodeo isn’t just a sport for men as we see plenty of women out there at breakneck speeds. This year’s rodeo queen herself, Hope Hickey, blazed past the crowd in her patriotic glam, not only bearing the colors of our nation for the crowd during the performance of our national anthem but also in her own impressive run during the barrel races; and she’s only sixteen. Hickey has been doing rodeo for 4 years, and while her favorite event is barrel racing, her favorite to watch from the stands is breakaway, which she has considered giving a try herself in the future. Hickey loves being named the rodeo queen and has plans to go places to advertise the White Deer rodeo so that it can be even bigger and better next year.

No rodeo would be complete without the musical entertainment that follows the main performance. This year’s performers were Kylie Frey and headliner, Casey Donahew.

Though Frey may have been the opening act for Donahew, she’s no small name herself, having performed on America’s Got Talent (AGT), her episode will air on Tuesday, August first. Frey has been in the music business for ten years now and got her start singing the national anthem at every rodeo she could. Her grandpa told her if she did that one day she would get asked to sing the anthem at the National Finals Rodeo, and that would be how she got her start, because that was how Reba did it. It seemed only fitting that the song Frey performed for her AGT audition would be one she wrote about her grandfather.

Singing the national anthem isn’t the only tie to rodeo that Frey has, coming from a big rodeo family, she was also once a rodeo queen herself. A true country girl playing her acoustic guitar, though she says her favorite instrument is the fiddle, Frey calls her music style a mix of red dirt and traditional country, drawing inspiration from favorites Dolly Parton and Wynona Judd. spectators commented saying they thought her performance was great and they can’t wait to see her on AGT. Anyone interested in following Frey on her journey can find her on social media under the tag @KylieFrenchFrey or through her website KylieFrey.com.

Rounding out the night in what secretary Rick Armstrong called the best show White Deer has ever had was the Casey Donahew Band.

“He told me he was gonna put on a show,” said Armstrong. “I think he delivered.”

With several hit songs under his belt, many written by Donahew himself as well as a slew of great covers, it’s hard to imagine him picking a favorite, yet he singles out one in particular called A Cowboy’s Prayer. This song in particular holds meaning to Donahew, as it’s the one he wrote for his father just before his passing.

“I love songs and telling stories,” said Donahew himself when asked what first inspired him to become a musician.

Donahew is well known and loved all over Texas as well as all over the country, having performed at many venues and rodeos during his 20 years in the business.

“I had a great time. Awesome show. A lot of people out there,” said Donahew. “White Deer was rocking.”