Abilene is Home to Cowboys and Competitions

By Tim Ghianni on April 26, 2011 at 9:46 am EST


Ranch rodeos, in which real cowboys saddle up to celebrate their lifestyle, spur Big Country excitement.

A posse of cowboys and about 40,000 spectators come to Abilene’s Taylor County Expo Center on the week­end of the second Saturday in May for the annual Western Heritage Classic.

The rodeo is sanctioned by the Working Ranch Cowboys Association, and the winner goes to the world championship in Amarillo.

Ranch rodeos are a longstanding tradition in the region, which is still home to cowboys making their day-to-day living on numerous ranches.

Abilene’s rodeo has blossomed into a full-scale folk festival that fills up motel rooms in a 100-mile radius, according to Tony McMillan, general manager.

“We don’t salute the cowboy way of life. We keep it alive,” says Casey Larned, who helps his dad with Wild Horse Prairie Days. “This rodeo would not exist without the help of the 40 to 50 local volunteers.”

“We are trying to continue the western lifestyle, the ranching lifestyle,’’ says McMillan of the doings in Abilene, population approximately 116,000.

“We started out with the ranch rodeo 23 years ago and it grew into this big festival pertaining to western heritage.”

Abilene’s event now includes horse races, herd-dog dem­onstrations, western art sale, boot-makers and more.

“We have the largest bit and spur show anywhere in the country,” says McMillan. “Some of these bits and spurs are real ancient antiques and collectible.”

There’s also a “gathering” – in which cowboys recite or sing their poetry and play their guitars.

“A ranch rodeo is where you have your certain events based exactly on what the ranchers do on their jobs at work, their daily routine from branding to sorting to bronc riding,” says Casey Larned.

For example, cowboys compete in penning (rounding up a set of marked calves and bringing them into a pen) and doctoring (lassoing and bringing down a cow as a cowboy would if the animal needed medical attention).

Branding, with chalk instead of white-hot iron, also is a part of the competition.

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