A saddle bronc rider hangs on tight during the Burnet County Rodeo. Photo by Erika Sopel

A saddle bronc rider hangs on tight during the Burnet County Rodeo. Photo by Erika Sopel

While Western traditions seem to be riding off into the sunset elsewhere in the United States, here in the Highland Lakes, they are celebrated throughout spring and summer in the sport of rodeo. The area throws the most exciting and dynamic open/pro rodeos in the country.
“I think rodeo is the last of the dying art of the Western heritage,” said Ricky Bindseil, a professional rodeo announcer whose voice kept fans entertained and informed during 23 rodeos in 2017. “The sport of rodeo is that piece that keeps us tied to our Western heritage. If you think about it, the sport of rodeo is the combination of the cowboys’ and cowgirls’ ingrained competitiveness and the skills of their jobs.”
Plus, rodeo is dang fun, he added.
In the Highland Lakes, rodeo thrives from May through August. You can cheer on competitors in barrel racing, team roping, bull riding, and other rodeo events.
Bindseil cut his teeth on calf roping in high school and college before taking up team roping. He sees local rodeos as the rope that connects people to their Western heritage. They also provide the best entertainment for the money.

Bull rider in Marble Falls, Texas

A bull rider prepares during a rodeo in Marble Falls. Staff photo

And, rodeos from Marble Falls to Lampasas draw top athletes — right here from the Highland Lakes.
“I think that’s one of the things that make these smaller rodeos so great is you’ll see some of the locals competing in them,” Bindseil said. “Some of these cowboys and cowgirls, you know, they might be looking to work up the ranks (in the professional rodeo associations), so they’re putting everything into that ride or that performance they can.”
Local rodeo committees, which are all-volunteer organizations, also don’t hold back when it comes to making their events as exciting as possible, keeping both the fans and the athletes in mind.
“I know it might seem a bit biased, because it’s right here, but the Burnet (County) Rodeo is a really good one and shows just how the local and smaller rodeos are a lot of fun,” Bindseil said. “The rodeo committee does a lot of work making sure that they have a great rodeo for the fans. And it’s the same in Marble Falls, Llano, San Saba — all these committees work really hard, and it shows.”
Bindseil and his wife, Missy, criss-cross Texas from early March through the fall announcing and providing sound and music for several rodeos and bull rides. Both hold Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association “pro” cards — Ricky in announcing and Missy as a music director — as well as memberships in the Cowboy Professional Rodeo Association and the United Professional Rodeo Association.
They know a top-notch event when they see it.
“And these rodeo athletes — and they are athletes — are not only trying to put on a good show for the fans, the prize money the cowboys or cowgirls win helps them get down the road to the next rodeo,” Bindseil added. “They’re there to compete, and they want to win. These cowboys and cowgirls are passionate about this. When they get out there in the arena, they’re in it one hundred percent.”

Cowgirls at Marble Falls Rodeo

Cowgirls ride into the Charley Taylor Arena in Marble Falls between events. Staff photo

While bull riding is a fan favorite, every rodeo event is exciting, Bindseil said, though spectators might need a little explanation to fully appreciate some of them.
“One of the things I do as an announcer is try to educate fans who might not know a lot about rodeo what’s going on in an event or what they should be looking for,” he said.
Bindseil pointed out that calf roping looks pretty simple at first glance, but when you pull it apart, it’s actually among the most complicated events.
“That cowboy has to do a lot of stuff in a small amount of time,” he said. “You have to ride the horse, swing the rope. You already have the (tie) string in your mouth. Once you rope the calf, you have to jump off the horse, get to the calf, flank it then tie three legs together in a bone-cross fashion.
“If any one of those things are off, even by a little, the cowboy’s probably not going to finish in the money,” Bindseil added.

Little cowpoke at Marble Falls Rodeo

Little cowpokes dream about riding in a rodeo. Staff photo

Then, there’s barrel racing.
“I like to describe barrel racing as ‘You’re going to watch lovely ladies on lightning-fast American quarter horses race rodeo style,’” he said.
Other events are team roping, breakaway roping, steer wrestling, bareback, and saddle bronc.
Bareback and saddle bronc fall into the rough stock events category along with bull riding. Hanging on for eight seconds is the main goal, but scoring high requires a “partnership” between animal and cowboy.
“In those events, the judges give points to both the bull or horse and the cowboy,” Bindseil pointed out.
The animal and the rider can each earn up to 50 points, so even if the contestant turns in a great ride, he might not earn any prize money if his horse or bull received a low score.
“The judges look at whether the cowboy has control (of his body and positioning) during the ride and while spurring,” Bindseil said. “The more spurring action, the higher the score; and the more in rhythm the cowboy’s (spurring) is with the animal, the higher they’ll usually score.”
Of course, while the cowboy is trying to stay on, the bucking horse or bull is doing everything it can to shake him loose.

Rodeo clown in Burnet County

Rodeo clowns often steal the spotlight with their comedic antics and bravery. Staff photo

Another fan favorite event also requires nerves of steel.
“Besides bull riding, what draws spectators to rodeo is mutton bustin’,” Bindseil said. “Only in Texas do we bring our kids out, set ’em on the back of sheep, tell them to hold on, and open the gate.”
Mutton bustin’ draws the kids and their parents and grandparents, adding to the excitement of the rodeo.
“It’s kind of full circle. Those little boys and girls in mutton bustin’ are the future of rodeo,” Bindseil said. “That’s another great thing about our local rodeos: It’s a great family event. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.”