Vaquero-style ranch roping is not a speed game. No chute. No spring-loaded gate. Efficiency matters, but judges look for mastery. Horsemanship in the service of working cattle. At the Brannaman Pro-Am Vaquero Roping in California’s Santa Ynez Valley—the year’s richest ranch-roping competition—teams of three riders get four minutes to hold herd and rope a calf. In those four minutes, as the dust boils and loops fly, centuries of tradition unfold.
Reata Brannaman is the future of the vaquero tradition. A crowd favorite at the annual event she and her father, Buck, co-founded, she enters the pen atop her bay roan quarter horse, Ray, and zeroes in on her team’s designated steer. As calves peel off one by one, she swings a long loop over her shoulder. The caller’s voice crackles over loudspeakers: “Reata’s locked and loaded. Looks like she’s going to throw a Houlihan.” Her calf bolts, and Reata fires. The loop arcs, wavering like a smoke ring. It falls around the steer’s head, and Reata gets her slack and stacks dallies on her saddle horn.
“Reata’s got beef on the line!”