Red Top Ranch Trick Riding school celebrated its 30th years at the Vold Ranch in Avondale, Colorado, this past March. Taught by Karen Vold and […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Willow Raley started roping when she was 13. “I junior rodeoed a little bit when I was 8, and then I got a horse from my aunt, who rode English, and I rode in a pony club for three years. I used to do a lot of three phase jumping – it’s where you do dressage, cross country, and show jumping in one day.” What she gained from that is balance. “I remember when they took our stirrups away and made us jump jumps – that taught me how to keep the horse soft and squeeze with my legs and keep good balance. That has helped me with my roping.”
Willow has given up the English riding, but she still has her saddle. “I don’t have time,” said the 31-year-old that calls Baggs, Wyo., home. Located about an hour and a half north of Steamboat Springs, Colo. Baggs has a nice indoor arena that belongs to the county. “We buy a membership for $600 for a lifetime for residents and we can rope all winter.” The arena isn’t heated, and Willow rides until the temperature drops below 15 degrees. “If it’s over that, it’s usually bearable. We usually have about two weeks of 40 below weather – and it usually hits around the NFR.”
Willow and her husband – Aaron – have been married for eight years. They rope together and spend the summer showcasing horses they have trained. Willow belongs to seven associations: CPRA, WPRA, PRCA, WRA, USTRC, WSTR, WTRC. “I have a lot of money in memberships,” she admits. Her membership in the PRCA landed her a spot in the short go at Cheyenne this year. “I didn’t know I was the only girl to do that,” she said of her accomplishment in Cheyenne. Her next goal is to make the Circuit Finals. “Finding partners is hard sometimes – everybody that I rope with at the circuit level I rope with at the amateur level, so it’s the same group of guys.” As far as a shot at the NFR, she is skeptical. “It’s the hauling and the amount of money you’ve got to do to get there,” she said.
Aaron appreciates his wife’s drive. “It’s just something that I like about her – that she wants to do good at what she does. She is so talented. One of my bigger goals is our horses that we raise and rope on. For me, that’s a goal that I’m getting accomplished with her.” Aaron realizes that there is no better way to advertise their horses than to have them on the road roping on them. “My goal is to have those horses that people want to have.”
Aaron, Willow, and Willow’s dad, Paul Nicholas, bought their first stud in 2004, before Willow and Aaron were even married. Senator Dual, out of Dual Pep and a daughter of Doc O’lena, was purchased from Texas as a five-year-old. “He had some earnings as a cutting horse, but he was bred well and has a great disposition,” said Willow. “You can do anything on him.” They brought him back to Baggs and started roping on him and breeding their mares to him.
They furthered their program by purchasing better mares and then they found Tigh and Jill Cowan. They owned Sun Frost and they sold Aaron and Willow a Sun Frost stud. “We became good friends and they’ve been like family to us as we have put our program together. They have been instrumental in our success. We are trying to build the perfect performance horse from barrels to roping to ranching,” said Aaron. The couple continues to strive to get that next best horse. “Our goal has always been to build the best rodeo horse we could get on. The rest is gravy. If we can raise a nice horse for someone else, that’s great.” Aaron competes in team roping and throws a steer from time to time. He roped calves in college but as time has gone on, he has settled on team roping and training horses. “When I met Willow I was getting into raising horses and we started roping together and that’s where we are today.”
Willow met Aaron through mutual rodeo friends while she was going to school in Casper, where he lived. They spend most all their time together. They are on the road a lot in the summer and hire a person every year for the summer to feed, ride, and take care of the place. “You’ve got to have somebody to help with chores and the horses,” she said. “We have a girl that’s out of college for a year and that’s who is helping us right now.”
Aaron spends most of his fall guiding hunters for Snake River Outfitting. “I help them and Henry Ranches,” he said. “I grew up around Casper and have been hunting ever since I can remember. I’ve been guiding since 1998.” The three months is the only time the couple is apart.
Willow’s dad had an outfitting business when she was growing up so hunting is not new to her. “He’d throw me on a horse on a pack string and send me on my way,” she said. “I would enter the Baggs Fun Days on our pack string horses.” She competed in high school and she tried out the poles on a horse that won her a second place check at her first rodeo. “It’s an addiction to keep going and trying to do good. The people and the competition is so fun.” She made the High School Finals her freshman, sophomore, and junior year in the pole bending and went on to college at Casper, where she made the CNFR in the breakaway from 2002-2005 and won the region in 2003. She majored in Ag Business and Accounting and uses her degree in her role as book keeper for the family came out of that degree.
She added another role to her life. She sold saddle pads for K Bar K Saddle Pad company because they used the pads. “Allen Bach endorsed them for awhile,” she said. “They are good, hand-made quality pads. The owner retired and we tried to find another pad that compared and couldn’t find one.” They found the guy and made him an offer. “We drove to his place, learned how to make the pads, brought the materials home, bought a new sewing machine, and that’s what I do in the winter.” The pads are made from scratch, including cutting out the material, sewing it together, and selling them (which Aaron does). Willow made the pad the Nikki Steffes rode at the Finals last year. “I’ve learned how to tool leather and found a person that will bling them out.”
At the end of the day, Willow’s favorite thing to do to relax is take the boat on the lake. “There’s no cell phone service out there,” she said.