Whether it was with wild horses, barrel horses or movie horses, Sammy Thurman Brackenbury lived her life with spirit, a sense of adventure, and a […]
Back When They Bucked with Carolynn Seay Vietor
Written by: Michele Toberer< Back to Articles
Front porch sittin’ will have to wait at the Rocking Chair Ranch, in Philipsburg, Montana, because Carolynn and her husband Willy Vietor are far too busy in the rodeo world to occupy rocking chairs. Carolynn, former Miss Rodeo America 1966, has spent a lifetime promoting and competing in professional rodeo as well as promoting the western lifestyle. Carolynn spends many hours in the saddle each week exercising and training on three horses, (her competition horse, back-up horse and prospect mare) and often stays at the barn until after dark. With a rodeo career spanning over 6 decades, Carolynn still has a passion for running barrels and every Tuesday night through the summer season you can find her sharing that passion at the Ranch at Rock Creek, just 20 minutes across the mountain from her home. “Riding in the exhibition rodeos and sharing rodeo with people that know nothing about it has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the promotion of the sport and the western lifestyle.” The rodeos are produced at the luxury dude ranch to share the experience of the wild west and a close-up view of rodeo with guests from all over the world, including social hours so guests can interact with the cowboys and cowgirls competing. Willy and Carolynn began working with the Ranch at Rock River three years ago, and the rodeos, produced with the help of former PRCA stock contractor Joe DeMers, offer a full slate of rodeo events to wow the crowds. Willy flags timed events and competes as a team roper in the rodeos. Barrel racing is one of the favored events of the night, and although many of the ranch’s wranglers race, Carolynn is the only professional barrel racer to star in the show, “I ride in full-dress code, bring one of my best horses and make the best run I can each rodeo, giving the guests a glimpse of true rodeo runs. All I’ve done in my life is coming to a head in doing this, it’s turned out to be one of the highlights of my life.”
Carolynn grew up in San Antonio, Texas as an only child and spent many days at her grandparents’ ranch just outside of Campbellton, Texas. Doll and J.G. Callan instilled a love of horses into their granddaughter, and as a child would take her to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. “Some friends of my grandparents gave us box seat tickets, and from those seats I watched the barrel racing for the first time and was hooked. I knew right then and there that I wanted to barrel race one day.” Carolynn’s grandpa was a cattleman and although he didn’t have rodeo horses, he made sure to buy his young granddaughter a horse that was kept at a nearby boarding stable and Carolynn spent several years riding and even competing in western pleasure shows. “My grandparents bought me a wonderful Palomino gelding named Sunny Boy. I was honored to carry the American flag on him at one of the shows at just 9-years-old; little did I know then that I would one day carry the American flag as Miss Rodeo America, and later at the 1998 opening ceremony of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on the WPRA’s 50th Anniversary.”
Although Carolynn’s dream was to be a barrel racer, even then barrel horses were very expensive, so she started out on ranch horses and entered high school rodeos as a breakaway roper. “I was 4th in the state of Texas in breakaway roping, on borrowed horses with borrowed trailers, actually borrowed everything!” Carolynn graduated from W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi, Texas before going on to compete on the college rodeo team for Southwest Texas State as a goat tyer. Carolynn was the NIRA Southern Region Champion Goat Tyer two years in a row and placed deep in the goat tying at the college national finals in 1964. In 1965, the NIRA held a Rodeo Queen contest and Carolynn rode away from the competition with the crown and title that summer. By the fall of that same year, she had also claimed the Miss Rodeo Texas crown, and finally went on to collect the coveted Miss Rodeo America crown, reigning for all three associations in 1966. Carolynn was the first Miss Rodeo America to win in all three categories of the competition; horsemanship, personality, and appearance. After taking the year off from college to focus on her responsibilities as rodeo queen, Carolynn graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas in 1968 with a degree in home economics and speech. Carolynn’s senior year of college, a friend set her up on a blind date with Bill, known as Willy; they were married 6 months later and have enjoyed a life of 50-years together so far. Willy served as a T-38 instructor pilot, stationed at the Laredo Air Force base for 6-years during the Vietnam War before the couple and their young son Cal, short for Callan, moved to Willy’s family ranch where they raised commercial cross-bred cattle in Philipsburg, Montana. While they were in Montana, Carolynn barrel raced at local amateur rodeos, staying close to home to focus on her family. The couple had their second son, Justin in 1974. Sadly, tragedy struck the young family in 1979 when they suffered the loss of both their 8-year old son, Cal, and Willy’s father Bill, in a tragic airplane accident.
In the late 70’s Carolynn had a sorrel gelding that made such an impression on her that his impact on her life can still be seen today. “Promino, a son of Classy Bar, was the best horse I have ever owned, and because of him, I bought his full sister, Classy Julie, from Dears Quarter Horses in Simms, Montana, and she and our Doc Bar stud, Dee Barretta have been the foundation of every great horse I’ve had since then.” Carolynn won the Montana Barrel Racing finals on Promino two years, and while riding Promino, she filled her rookie GRA (now the WPRA) permit in 1979 at one rodeo in Helena, Montana. After filling her card while competing in the PRCA Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit, she went to the circuit finals a total of 18 times on 7 different horses. In 2003, she was the Montana Circuit Champion on one of her colts, Classy Eye Am, a sorrel mare more fondly known as Bump. In 2003, Carolynn qualified for the 2004 Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho. The couple built a winter home in 2005, just outside of Wickenburg, Arizona and Carolynn stopped going to the Montana circuit rodeos as heavily. However, slowing down was not exactly Carolynn Vietor’s speed, and she and Willy continued to compete in the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association, with Carolynn winning the 2008 NSPRA Champion Barrel Racer title on Bump.
In 1985, she held the Northern Region Director position, followed by the Montana Director position for the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, for a total of 10 years before taking the reins as president of the association from 1995 until 2003. After retiring for 10 years, she was re-elected as president once again serving from 2013 until 2016. During Carolynn’s time with the WPRA, she not only saw incredible growth in the industry but was also recognized with many honors and awards. Carolynn was named the 1999 Coca-Cola Woman of the Year, 2002 Pioneer Woman of the Year, and was awarded the WPRA Heritage Award in 2002 as well. “Everything is bigger and better, Miss Rodeo America, rodeos, barrel racing, all of it. There are so many more rodeos, more sponsors, and so much more money. No one ever dreamed we’d compete for the money we can today.” In 2008, Carolynn was honored as the Texas State University Alumna of the Year because of her work in professional rodeo. Although it was due to the efforts of several board members and many years of earnestly working towards goals, Carolynn was fortunate to see major accomplishments while she was the WPRA president; in 1998, team ropers and barrel racers were given equal money at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, and she was also in the lead of the WPRA when the prize money went to over a million dollars at the WNFR.
Carolynn is as busy as ever today, filled with the same passion for barrel racing that has been the story of her life. “I have a 7-year old horse coming up, so I’m about ready to get more heavily into competing again. I broke my leg last year so that slowed me down some, but I’ve finally just about forgotten I broke it, so I’m getting back in the groove and ready to go again.” Besides judging at multiple events, when in Arizona Willy ropes nearly every day of the week, sometimes going to 2 or 3 ropings a day. They enjoy spending time with Justin, his wife Brook, and their two granddaughters, Ellie, 8, and Reese, 6, (lovingly known as MayMay), who live near Salt Lake City, Utah. Carolynn and Willy are on a desperate search to find the perfect kid horses to share with their granddaughters, hoping to instill the same passion for the lifestyle that her grandparents once did for her.
The Vietor family was inducted to the 2016 Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame and in 2017, Carolynn was included as one of the Outstanding Women of the West at the Montana Silversmith World Reunion and Gold Card Gathering.
“Professional rodeo has grown by leaps and bounds from the cowboys of the Turtle days that worked to gain recognition as a professional sport to what it is today, but still with the ground roots of the western lifestyle and where we came from. I am so happy to have been a part of it and see it all happen.”