A Legacy Of Legends
North State Women in Rodeo
Story by: Sandie Tillery
The western way of life continues to weave its threads through the warp and woof of the North State. Though cowboys so often get the most attention during rodeo season, the contributions of female performers, competitors, stock handlers and support volunteers are as spectacular and essential as their male counterparts. The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Ft. Worth, Texas, describes western women as “the pioneers and trailblazers, the artists and writers, the entertainers, the ranchers and rodeo cowgirls.”
The North State has its fair share of legendary personalities, women creating legacies of excellence in their own fields. Bobby Stone grew up in the Palo Cedro area and is a Gold Card holder of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA). She’s a trick and fancy rider who has performed all over the world doing tricks like the Cossack Drag and the Hippodrome Stand that require gymnastics-like strength and agility while attached to her equine partner. For many years, Bobby toured the world with Monty Montana Jr.’s Wild West Show. Josey Kelly, Bobby’s daughter, is following in her footsteps – they perform as a team during rodeos and western events. While Josey was growing up around the excitement of the rodeo arena, she became the youngest member of the PRCA and learned the ropes in a variety of venues, from goat roping and barrel racing to performing with her mom. With her lifetime of experience in the arena and behind the scenes, Josey made a perfect representative when she was chosen to reign as Miss Redding Rodeo in 2004 and as Grand National Rodeo Queen for 2008. Her royalty responsibilities have given her the opportunity to bridge the divide she often sees between contestants and those who work so hard behind the scenes, and to represent rodeo and the western way of life to the broader community. Bobby and Josey mentor other young women who have a passion for trick riding, and many who run for Rodeo Queen request their expertise to get ready for competition.
“It’s a man’s world,” says Janelle Kish, who works with husband Don in their stock contracting company from their Red Bluff ranch. Their stock trailer is emblazoned with “Kish’s Buckin’ Best.” She loves the life, “working outdoors, around livestock and with nice, grounded people who live the western lifestyle.” The Kishes provide bucking bulls for high school, college, professional and open bull riding events. One of their animals, God’s Gift, recently earned highest marks in Anaheim at a Professional Bull Riders event. Though Janelle acknowledges that the hard physical work requires great strength, she still gets up close and personal with her stock both on the ranch and in the chutes, and manages the breeding end of the business. The Kishes keep 300 to 400 bulls on their ranch, breeding 150 to 200 cows and raising 100 bull calves each year. They are shareholders in American Bucking Bull, Inc., whose aim is to maintain a standard of excellence in the growing bucking bull breeding industry.
Tami Baker, chosen in years past as Outstanding Member and Woman of the Year and now serving her fourth term as captain of the Redding Women’s Rodeo Association (RWRA), has said that though “generations change, they have one common love—anything that involves horses and rodeo.” Those involved in the organization love the culture that goes with it. Charley Gray, another RWRA member, past captain, and active participant in all their activities including drill team and carrying sponsor flags, has filled her calendar with rodeo activities, especially the weeks leading up to the 60th Annual Redding Rodeo slated for May. Along with the Redding Rodeo Association Women’s Auxiliary (daughters, wives and mothers related to the local cowboys), the women handle everything from refreshment booths, meals for staff, stock and stable care to bookkeeping and clubhouse event coordination.
“I love getting dressed up for dinner and a movie just like any lady,” says Janelle Kish. “But I love putting on my boots and getting into the corral.” So when you go to the rodeo, don’t think those are just pretty faces hanging out around the arena. These women are creating a legacy in the rodeo world.