Rodeo brings family fun, crowds to Liberty Hill

Robert Velasquez of Huntsville struggles to hold on in the bareback riding event Saturday. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Robert Velasquez of Huntsville struggles to hold on in the bareback riding event Saturday. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Matt McElhinney

Last Friday at the 2015 Liberty Hill Open Rodeo, Cookies ‘N Cream, a 2,000-pound white bull marked with black spots, had its horns pointed at barrelman and rodeo clown Shotgun Rodney Gaston. Still raging after flinging aside its rider, the bull charged at Gaston.

“Look out, Shotgun!” rodeo announcer Dave McMahon boomed over the intercom.

“I ain’t scared of you, bull,” Shotgun gibed, after finding refuge in a barrel. “I’ll rip your ears off and stick ‘em on your backside so you can hear me kickin’ your butt.”

Gaston, who came to Liberty Hill from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been entertaining rodeo-goers for 25 years, performing for crowds of more than 10,000.

Later on, Gaston was teasing a big black bull named Frosted Rat.

“Nothing like a little Frosted Rat in the morning,” Gaston said. “Is that made by Kellogg’s?”

Other attractions at the rodeo Friday night included bareback riding, roping events and barrel racing. Children 12 years of age and younger chased calves around the arena in a calf scramble, and children 6 years of age and younger rode sheep in a mutton bustin’ event. Six-year-old Canyon West had the longest ride.

“I just grabbed a hold of it,” West said after the event. “It feels really good. I had fun.”

In years past, the rodeo was a Williamson County Cowboy Church event and fundraiser. This year, it was a community event. And with more than 1,500 people in the stands at Harvest Ranch Arena on opening night, rodeo organizer Corey Ross anticipated a 50 percent increase in attendance this year.

“This rodeo is not a church rodeo,” said Ross, pastor of Cowboy Church. “It’s Liberty Hill’s rodeo. It’s a family thing, and it’s clean entertainment.”

Recognizing the potential benefits for the city as rodeo visitors were expected to do business with local establishments, the City’s Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors voted last month to allocate $5,000 toward the rodeo. Board members discussed the possibility that in future years the Liberty Hill Open Rodeo could be an even greater tourist attraction.

“We put on this rodeo to bring people into the town,” Ross said. “There’ll be thousands who will come to the rodeo and bring in thousands of dollars to our local businesses. We’ll have competitors from all over the country.”

On Wednesday, Ross said more than 3,000 attended the weekend rodeo — the largest crowd in the past five years. He said growth in attendance was due to a heavy marketing effort made possible by the City’s investment.

World champion cowboys competing at the rodeo included champion calf roper Justin Maas and champion steer roper Cody Lee. Also slated to compete were world champion team ropers Tee Woolman and Rich Skelton.

According to Ross, a vehicle rear ended Skelton’s tractor while he was driving down the road earlier this week. Skelton was hospitalized after the accident, and Ross didn’t expect Woolman and Skelton to compete.

Notable stock competing in the rodeo include a horse bred from the world famous horse Wagon Box and a known daughter of the world famous horse Grated Coconut.

Riding the daughter of the famed Grated Coconut in the bareback event Friday night, Robert Velasquez, a Branded for Christ Cowboy Church rider from Huntsville, found himself caught in the rigging after he fell from the horse.

“I was hanging by my wrist for almost 30 seconds,” Velasquez said. “It felt like a marathon. You are just trying to get your hand out as quick as possible.”

Velasquez met with Russel Polk from Simply Chiropractic to get an adjustment after his ride. Polk offers free adjustments to riders and weary travelers at the rodeo.

“You’ve got to keep pushing through,” Velasquez said. “Like everything in life, it’s your decision either you are going to face your fears and take courage and keep doing what you want to do or you are going to let your fear distract you and change your mindset of what your goals are.”

Cowboy Hall of Fame

The Liberty Hill Cowboy Hall of Fame induced Lana McDearmon and Jody Giddens May 23 during the Liberty Hill Open Rodeo.

The Cowboy Hall of Fame was started in 2012 as a way to honor the contributions cowboys have made to rural Texas and particularly the Liberty Hill area.