Story by Ruth Nicolaus Because of his parents, Scott and Jenee Holub, and his granddad, George Rachau, Dillin Holub is involved in the sport he […]
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Meet the Member Rafter Z Rodeo
story by Lily Weinacht
Rafter Z Rodeo based in Millmont, Pennsylvania, supports the western lifestyle all over the Northeast. Started by Shawn Zrowka, Rafter Z Rodeo puts on 45–50 rodeos a year, along with providing stock for the AFR the last three years, the International Bull Riders Finals, IPRA, and PBR events.
“I went to a lot of rodeos and had a lot of ideas of what to make better for the spectators and contestants. I’ve done a lot of jobs, but I always came back to rodeo,” says Shawn. “Every day is different from the last and keeps things interesting in this business, and figuring out new ways to make our shows and livestock better is the driving force behind it.” Shawn, 39, high school rodeoed for Pennsylvania starting his freshman year and rode bulls and bareback horses, and later transitioned to fighting bulls. When he was 17, he moved to the West and spent 13 years there dividing his time between rodeos and working on ranches. “I started Rafter Z Rodeo while I was out there and it was slow going for a lot of years, but eight years ago it really took off. I started buying rodeo stock and putting on jackpots at different events, and booking shows.”
Shawn moved back to Pennsylvania and now runs the company with his fiancée, Debra Weber, who secretaries all of the rodeos; his two sons, William (10) and Brayden (4); and several other ranch hands. “The main guy on the ranch, Nathan Ayers, fights bulls for us and takes care of the stock on a daily basis, on and off the road,” says Shawn, who is also a rodeo announcer. “Out of 50 shows a year, there’s probably 40 that we’re doing everything at from start to finish, along with arena rentals which keeps us pretty busy.” Year round, Shawn also puts on events at Rafter Z Ranch, which he started building four years ago. The facility has two indoor arenas, and hosts everything from glow in the dark barrel races to bull riding, team roping, or steer wrestling jackpots. They also put on clinics, including one in February coached by PBR champion Mike Lee. “The APRA has a great group of people running things, and biggest thing is their contestant retention,” Shawn adds. “They keep them coming back, and for stock contractors, that helps us get contestants.”
The livestock that is the life and breath of Rafter Z Rodeo includes 55 head of bulls, 36 head of broncs, 75 head of saddle horses that are leased out to summer camps, and timed event cattle. “We had numerous horses and bulls at AFR 41 this past year, and are pretty proud of all of them. Our saddle broncs 747 Texas Red and 025 Born Wild were some of the highest marked saddle bronc horses at the finals. 645 Finaline RedLine was the highest marked bull of the first round of the finals with a 43-point bull score,” says Shawn. “We have high hopes for a bull that is originally from California, H416 Wakeup Call, who came from Cameron Hollman, the livestock director for the PBR Velocity Tour. Everywhere we take him he’s getting marked 22–22.5 points, so we’re pretty proud of him. I have stock from pretty much every state.” Shawn travels frequently to Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and even up into Canada to find and purchase new stock. “We start our season in April with a PBR Touring Pro Event we host in Elmira, New York, so from April to September we’re on the road pretty hard, and in November we’re already planning the next year.
“Like anybody else, we want to get as much livestock as we can wherever we can, and build a good contestant base and put on quality rodeos. We strive every year to do better than the last year. We add new acts to keep our crowds entertained, and our biggest thing is crowd interaction and involving families,” says Shawn. “I want to leave this world better than when I came. It’s a great feeling waking up every day knowing you’re able to do what you love, and surround yourself with such great people and animals. We truly are blessed.”