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Wild Horse Rodeo Company
story by Lindsay Welchel
Wendel Ratchford has covered a lot of miles along the rodeo road. His parents had a stock contracting business in the 1960s, and his dad was one of the very first producers in the IPRA. Wendel joined as a contestant in the bull riding in 1968, his senior year in high school.
“I started accumulating some bulls even back in the ‘70s. My dad was still doing an FFA rodeo or two then, and even though I was gone I would leave them there at home for him to use,” Wendel describes of his start as a stock contractor. “I started my first breeding program in 1980 raising bucking bulls out of a set of cows I had actually bucked to make sure they would buck, and we went from there.”
“From there” means a long way for Wendel, who started a family and built up a ranch in Oklahoma in 1980 between the years he worked handling the livestock for Longhorn Rodeo Company based out of Nashville. He joined them again in 1990 and worked with the company until it closed down after Bruce Lehrke’s death. All the while, Wendel also ran his own contracting business Wild Horse Rodeo out of Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
Having his businesses divided for twenty years came with both challenges and rewards, says Wendel. The greatest reward has been the geographic stretch of the bonds he has within rodeo.
“The favorite part about the whole rodeo business is the people you meet, the places you go. You travel from here to Bangor, Maine and south Florida over a period of 20 years, you create a family of people around you that you see once or twice a year, and it’s like homecoming,” he says and adds, “It’s a blessing and a pleasure to see those people.” Despite the challenges of running a rodeo company, the pressure and the expense, it’s the people who make it worthwhile.
“The rodeo business is tough. It’s hard to make a living, but it’s awesome just the people you get to know. I have a family of people that’s unreal. I give that more precedent than anything I do in the rodeo business.”
Now days, things have slowed down for Wild Horse Rodeo. Wendel will be downsizing and retiring to focus on other endeavors, while maintaining his strong working relationship as the stock provider for the Oklahoma City-based nightclub, Cowboys OKC, which hosts weekly bull ridings. His grandson is also an up-and-coming bronc rider, so Wendel will no doubt keep a few horses around to help him along.
And he’ll co-contract stock for the Southern Region Finals held in Ada, Oklahoma Oct. 23-24.
It looks like, even in retirement, rodeo isn’t leaving Wendel Ratchford.
“You never lose it. It’s always there. I worked the rodeos when I was a little boy and I never quit,” he assures.