Chantz Webster readied himself Saturday night before facing down a loose calf to lasso at the 48th Bryan Breakfast Lions Club PRCA Rodeo at the Brazos County Expo.
As he prepared to compete, he said he had two objectives: Earn a high-placing prize of more than $1,000, and condition his friend’s horse to grow accustomed to the bright lights and shouts of onlookers.
The 21-year-old from Weatherford has made a career of the sport and built his life around the circuit and the community. Like many rodeo competitors before him, Webster was raised in a rodeo family, and a passion has grown from that.
“[I like] the opportunity to do it for a living,” he said. “You have to win — that’s the point. And if you go to the finals, you can make as much as $200,000. That’s what drove me to do this and not to get a degree, although I’m halfway through a college degree right now. ... I feel like rodeo is a family thing if you grow up doing it. And I feel like rodeo [as a sport] is growing in terms of money; more people are getting into it.”
The Bryan rodeo, which drew more than 2,000 spectators Saturday, is just one of numerous circuit rodeos Webster will compete in each year. He makes many friends through the sport, and he said social media has made it easier to keep up with friends he doesn’t see all year because of travel.
Rodeo keeps him on the road often, particularly in the summertime. Webster said he isn’t an adrenaline junkie — just competitive and driven.
“Especially with roping calves, it’s so complex,” he said. “So many things could go wrong, and you have to be prepared for anything to happen. ... [I like] the pressure of everything before being out there, and the idea of winning and being successful. I worked really hard, through the blood, sweat and tears.”
Like Webster, Texas A&M alumna Jacee Wren also felt a strong drive to be riding in that arena.
As a member of the Catalena Cowgirls, her goal Saturday night was not to win a competition, but to put on a great show in a glittering costume through tightly choreographed drills. Wren joined the team in 2015 while still a student at Texas A&M after learning about the group from some high school friends. She quickly fell in love with being a Catalena Cowgirl, and she hasn’t let 900 miles of distance keep her from saddling up.
“About two years ago I met a special boy, and that’s why I’m living in Iowa now,” she said with a laugh. “We’re engaged now, but I still love the team, wearing paint and pretty outfits. Pretty much any chance I get, I come down. They get me the schedule early, and I plan flights down here.”
By carefully saving her money and accepting some help from her family, Wren flies out as often as twice a month to attend riding practice and perform in rodeo shows across the state.
“It’s just a great group of girls, honestly,” she said. “They treat me like family, and when I see them doing an event and I can’t be there, I feel so sad. I make an effort to make sure I’m not missing anything. Iowa is a great place with a lot of rodeos and great drill teams, but nothing compares to the Catalena Cowgirls. The bond I have with them is so special.”
Catalena Cowgirl Katie Mushinski of Cypress understands that love and dedication well. A Catalena Cowgirl since 1997, she said the outfits and routines have changed since the ’90s, but at its core, the drill team of 20 to 25 riders is still the same. The women spend their time together training, sewing sequins and caring for their horses. Even after 22 years, Mushinski said she still is able to bond with the younger new girls.
“Of course you want to mentor the new members, and the drills need to be seamless, but there’s no pecking order or eating our young,” she said. “... We are all about getting everybody in and teaching them.”
Rodeo producer Sammy Catalena’s wife, Carolyn, was in the stands watching both the performers and the competitors Saturday night, something her family has done for decades past.
“We have been in the rodeo business more than those 48 years,” she said. “This is our hometown rodeo, and it’s always very important to have one at home. It’s a big community effort. ... In this area with Texas A&M we have a lot of visitors who have never been to a rodeo, and it’s exciting to be here and see their first one. They’re excited to be in Texas, and we love having them here. Everybody thinks Texas has the best rodeos, and that’s what we try to provide.”
A portion of proceeds from the event, which ran Thursday through Saturday, will benefit the Bryan Breakfast Lions Club.