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Cowboys get to play at rodeo (video)

By Jessica Rodrigo
Sept. 18, 2013 at 4:18 a.m.

Cody Leopold holds his daughter, Lucy Jo, on the saddle while riding his horse while rounding up cattle as he prepares for Saturday's Ranch Rodeo, Roundup and Barbecue Cook-off in Hallettsville. Although he said he usually likes to start teaching his children to ride horses when they are 2, Lucy Jo, who will turn 1 year old  Sept. 24, begs to sit with him while he rides.

Ranching is hard work. But this weekend, the cowboys and cowgirls who keep the ranchlands in South Texas looking good and the cattle free from disease, will get a break from work and a chance to play at the Ranch Rodeo, Roundup and Barbecue Cook-off and Women's Ranch Rodeo in Hallettsville.

For sometimes seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day, cowboys and women like Cody Leopold and the L&W Cattle Company work the cattle, deliver vaccinations and sort the herd while the rest of us might be sitting pretty in an air-conditioned office.

He and his crew wake up at 5 a.m. each morning to prepare for a long day of work. Under the shade of their worn cowboy hats and protected beneath long-sleeved, button-up Wrangler work shirts, they set out to hit the fields atop their horses. Leopold, 35, said the work isn't hard but needs to be done. And depending on where the work is, they might stay in Hallettsville, or they might trek out to other areas in Texas and sometimes out of state to Oklahoma or elsewhere, he said.

The work has changed a little bit since the days of the original cowboys and the evolution of technology, but for them, they still utilize cow dogs and horses to wrangle stray cattle and drive them into their pens.

"We stay busy pretty much every day. For us, it's still the cowboy way," Leopold said. "Some people use four-wheelers and other vehicles to do it, but we still ride horseback."

Travel between the different parcels of land that they tend requires them to drive their trucks and trailers filled with a handful of patient horses and an eager pack of dogs. Once they're on the land, the barking dogs and sounds of the men at work can be heard from across the field. The dogs keep the herd in a tight group while the men bring them in the rear.

Leopold started learning how to work the land at 15 from the experienced cowboys in the area. It was through watching his elders do the work and then giving it try himself that he learned how to throw a lasso, trim a horn and castrate a young bull. Armed with that experience, Leopold has been able to support his three kids and wife with the ranch work.

"Some of us have been lucky enough to support our families with this kind of work," he said. "There are just a few of us left. Some people like to outsource the work now."

And like his elders, he started teaching his own kids how to ride and help out around the ranch.

His sons, Lane, 6, and Wyatt, 7, started riding at the ripe age of 2, and Lucy Jo, who will turn 1 on Sept. 24, is already used to the rhythm of riding. Holding the reins while her daddy holds her is one of her favorite things to do. His wife, Whitney, 27, knows the tricks of the trade, too, but works as a nurse in Hallettsville.

"There's a saying that behind every successful rancher, there's a wife that works in the city," said Leopold, joking.

Working the ranch has become a family tradition and so, now, has the ranch rodeo.

Leopold and his two young boys shared the glory of competing at the San Antonio Ranch Rodeo finals last year, but before they can have a repeat run at it in the Alamo City, they've got to earn their points at the semi-finals in Hallettsville.

Four years ago, the Lavaca Expo Association started a ranch rodeo event at the Wilbur Baber Memorial Complex in Hallettsville, said Kevin Haas, a member of the association's board. During the two-day ranch rodeo, which includes a barbecue cook-off, groups will try to beat the clock and show everyone what they're capable of.

"It's all the same things the ranchers do every day - it's just modified into a sport and competition," said Haas, 32. "It used to be one of the most popular ways of work."

During the rodeo, the teams will compete in double mugging, doctoring, trailer loading, branding and wild cow milking. Once all the teams compete, the top five will come back for a shot at the finals, which is also the qualifier for the San Antonio finals.

"I get to rodeo with the people I work with," Leopold said. "The kids get a chance to do it, too."

This is the first time the event has included the a women's ranch rodeo show in addition, Haas said.

"We're excited to have them collaborating with us," he said. "We've also got our children's ranch rodeo competition, which will include two events."

On Saturday, the teams will compete for one of the top five slots to compete in the finals. The women will lead the finals, followed by the men and then the children, Haas said.

The South Texas Women's Ranch Rodeo Association will host its Denim, Diamonds and Dirt finals competition with groups from Wharton, Bay City, Nixon and Lufkin, Anna Cook, director head of the STWRRA, said. The group officially took off this year and hosted two other competitions in Jourdanton and Caldwell before hitting Hallettsville. The competitions give women who know a thing or two about ranching a chance to show off what they can do and contribute to area charities.

"Proceeds go toward nonprofit groups," she said. "So, in Lavaca County, a percentage of the money will go back to the community that invited us to join them."



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