Wrangler National Patriot Tour - 4th of July

Fourth of July. Fireworks. Troops. Wrangler. Ranch Rodeo. #Merica! This past Independence Day was one for the record books and a humbling experience that I will never forget. 

When I got the call from Jenna Smeenk saying I was invited to participate on the Wrangler National Patriot Tour in California, I was ecstatic to say the least. This not only meant I would get to spend time with some of my favorite people, the Smeenk sisters, but it would be an incredible opportunity to show my love and appreciation to some of our service members. What an honor!

The mission of American 300, the organizing body of the Wrangler National Patriot Tour, is to support American Armed Forces and the communities they live and operate in worldwide. Our orders were to join the Marines and their families of Pickle Meadow’s Marine Mountain Ops Warfare Training Center to participate in the annual Bridgeport Ranch Rodeo. This base has a very unique mission and coupled with their intensive mountain warfare training program, they teach soldiers to ride horses, pack mules, and adapt to working with these animals in harsh combat conditions. Cool, right?!

I was in complete awe driving into the gorgeous valley of Bridgeport, CA. This small valley was wall to wall lush green grass, a serpentine river, and cattle as far as the eye can see. We started off the trip with dinner at Centennial Livestock. It was there that I first met some of the kindest, biggest-hearted people I now call friends.

The first day of the Ranch Rodeo was a blast. The community was so welcoming and the military families were so much fun to work with. If you are not already familiar with the format of ranch rodeos, I will give you a quick crash course. You will recognize some events as being close to traditional rodeo events but each one represents specific chores one might do on a real working ranch. The contestants are about as punchy as it gets, nearly all are full-time ranch cowboys and cowgirls competing in ranch rodeos when their actual ranch duties will accommodate. They also compete in teams. We were on #TeamMarine. Trisha, Jenna, and I would do most of the roping and riding (OK, Trisha did nearly ALL of the roping) and the Marines would do the tough guy stuff. We actually had the fastest times in the trailer loading and double mugging events.

Our team was doing great but there was one thing missing. In order to be full-blown participants, we needed a rough stock rider. After meeting the stock contractor, Nate, I began teasing him that I thought I could probably ride one of his broncs. After all, I used to ride colts and those suckers bucked pretty hard a time or two but to-date, I have never been bucked off a horse despite their best efforts. I thought, “how different could it really be?” Nate shrugged his shoulders and half-heartedly told me, “Sure.” At the time, I was not sure how seriously he took me.

After the first night of the rodeo concluded, we went back to Centennial Livestock for a huge celebration, serenaded by my very own neighbor from Utah, Bren Hill. Imagine my surprise seeing him all the way in scenic Bridgeport, California. It was at this dinner that I started to get a little big for my britches, telling everyone that the stock contractor and I had it all worked out that I was going to enter the saddle bronc riding the next day. NOBODY believed I would actually go through with it. Nobody.

Bright and early the next morning, everyone was astonished to hear I was as sincere as I was the night before about riding a bucking horse. When Trisha and I headed back behind the chutes, the reality of what I had gotten myself into started to sink in. All of the rough stock riders gathered around me inquisitively to see if I might chicken out last minute. They were all incredibly helpful by loaning me their gear, adjusting everything to my size, and offering me advice and words of encouragement. They even saddled my bronc for me (I know, total rodeo queen move). What happened next can only be explained through this video:

(Courtesy of Wrangler Network & American 300)

I will never forget the pounding in my chest when I nodded for the chute gate or the rush of excitement during my victory lap with my pickup man hero, Codey. The best feeling of all was really that I was able to bring more attention to American 300, the Wrangler National Patriot Tour, and especially the wonderful men and women of the Armed Forces. After that ride, I felt like I was the talk of the town. Everyone seemed to stop me to ask if I was the cowgirl that rode the bronc. Their inevitable next question was always, “Was that your first time?” to which I would respond, “Yes, it was my first time intentionally riding a bucking horse.”

The next day the Marines brought down their pack mules and the mustangs they use in their training program for all of us to ride in the town’s parade. My heart swelled with pride as I rode alongside these fantastic men and could hear spectators shouting out to them, “thank you for your service!” Indeed gentlemen, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service.

After the parade, they took us up to the base where we went on one of the most scenic trail rides I have ever been on. I have a renewed respect for the hardiness and durability of American Mustangs after that ride. We went through some tricky country and not one of them had a problem. The Marines talked to us the entire ride about their training program and pointed out the miles and miles of terrain they trek soldiers through during their course. It was mind blowing how tough these young men must be in order to not only survive this course, but to master it.

This journey with American 300 and the Wrangler National Patriot Tour deepened my love and appreciation for the selfless sacrifices our troops make in order to protect our freedoms. I cherished every minute of that trip and want to express my most sincere thanks to Mr. Rob Powers, director of American 300, Marcus and Kimmie, the ranch managers and organizers of the ranch rodeo, Centennial Livestock, all of the volunteers who made the rodeo run smoothly, Tony from the Mountain Ops Warfare Training Center, the brave marines and their wonderful families whom we had the privilege of associating with that weekend.

God bless our troops and God bless America.