Gilpin Gymkhana Buckle riding event

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Reflection on spending a day in Gilpin County

By Allan Tucker

It was a clear crisp morning. The rain from the day before had left a heavy mist on the grass and a light fog was sifting through the ponderosas and lifting off Missouri Lake. Out in a meadow was a small herd of elk, all young cows. Probably one of the last before moving on up to higher ground for the season. A few ran, jumped and chased each other. I guess even they felt the excitement of the day. No prettier picture could be painted, even in a story book. It seems the immensity of these high-up mountains causes some folks to shrink back and head back to the low lands.

For some reason I feel born to this kind of country. I have never felt more at home. I envy those who have horses. I grew up on a cattle and horse ranch in west Texas, but I left home early and headed out west on a steel horse. Just a couple of weeks ago, a good friend, Stuart Schultz and I rode up through the mountains behind the ranch where he lives. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day.

I had just left Taggert’s place and was approaching the county arena. As I slowed to let a couple in a surrey pass I had to stop and just watch the riders on horseback nervously pacing the tanbark, warming up for today’s rodeo event.

Today was the second of the Gilpin County Gymkhana Buckle series. As our announcer, Randy Ruhl commented, this could be the most important or critical of the three events. If you are in first place at this time, you need to keep that position. Someone in second might work harder than last time and move up to first. This is everybody’s second chance to improve their overall scores.

The clouds were still hanging low from yesterday’s rain. They moved in closer towards noon time. We never got any of the rain, but it still left the arena with a close dark kind of day. The mountain gods must have been enjoying the show themselves. The rain held off at a distance. Everyone picked up the pace and the events moved swiftly. We even skipped lunch and kept on moving. The arena was muddy and there was a chill in the air, but I didn’t see anyone lose heart or back off on their enthusiasm. This was a hard working group of cowhands.  All through the day I could hear even the youngest of the cowhands shouting and encouraging their horses to pick it up.

Once again, one of my biggest inspirations was young Brianna Crawford. She presented our American flag. That cowgirl’s got sand. She rode hard all day and always with a laugh or an encouraging shout. You young cowboys had better behave. When Brianna grows up, she’ll not only run the house, she’s gonna’ run the whole ranch. Keep riding girl.

Now forgive me for a moment – I gotta’ to take off my friendly hat. The City of Black Hawk says they have close to twenty thousand people per day drive up from the valley to spend the day in a dark, noisy, crowded room.

People, these kids are working hard. Yea, there are some real grown up cowboys in the arena giving it one hundred percent. No discredit to them at all, but I am betting sixty percent of these cowhands are under the age of eleven. You can see the fear in their eyes, but you also see the excitement and pride in their faces. These are not video games or mountains bike the kids are working at. They are on the hurricane deck of a twelve to fifteen hundred pound live animal that may decide he doesn’t want to play by your rules.

One young cowgirl’s horse showed up full of vinegar. She left the saddle once and then another time he rolled over on her. No, this is not a hockey game and I am not encouraging you to come watch someone get hurt, but that is the point – these kids risk getting hurt because they love what they are doing.

And I am speaking from a personal point, I am not selling tickets. I was very busy all through school, grade school up through college. I spent a lot of time on stage and not for fun. I was spokesperson and president for Dallas Independent School District Safety Council. I was the spokesperson for our schools PTA. My principal taught me to memorize some very long speeches so I could present them with some knowledge and not just read them from a page. None of my family was ever at any of these events. They didn’t even know what college I attended.

My wife is the only one who knows that I flunked math twice in high school, went to college at thirty-four, and got an engineering degree in electronics.

And still I get that same sinking feeling when I look across the arena and see empty seats. You don’t have to own a horse, you don’t even have to like horses, but if you’ve got warm blood in your body, how can you not like seeing these kids give it their all.

And it is not only the young. There is a hand-full of people out here working to help make these events possible and it is disheartening to look up and see an empty parking lot. This is our community – not mine, not yours. We have to support each other’s want and wishes, not just the ones that are most popular.

Come on out folks. The worst that could happen is you might look up across the arena and see the mountains all covered in pine and aspen and remember where you live. This is not an ordinary community, and these are way beyond ordinary kids. Help them understand that what they take so much pride in is worth it.

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