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NOVEMBER 28 2019

“I’m especially proud of my groundbreaking wife’s accomplishments in the male-dominated world of team roping. Tammy and I are still partners, and we’re still following our passion for horses and roping.”

by Ryan White
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Long before we started Best Ever Pads together, before we became parents to two boys—Trey and Colton—even before we were married, my wife, Tammy, and I were team-roping partners.

I first saw Tammy West at the Oakdale 10 Steer Roping. She was this beautiful blond-haired gal roping steers. It was hard to miss her!

Tammy was working for a leather company at the time and waiting tables at night. But her first loves were horses and roping. She was riding colts and doing cowboy work and competing at local ropings with her dad and whoever else she could partner up with.

I was starting to make it in the team-roping world. I wanted to get my PRCA card and give pro-rodeoing a shot. But I was having trouble finding a good header. The partners I had weren’t getting the job done for me. They were breaking barriers and missing steers. I’d go for stretches where I didn’t even throw my rope. I couldn’t fill my permit in order to get my card.

Back then, in the late 1990s, you didn’t see many women ropers. You’d occasionally see a girl and her dad roping together at a jackpot. But team roping was a boy’s club, for sure.

Tammy was the exception.

At the time, there were three really big events in the team-roping world—The Bob Feist Invitational, the U.S. Team Roping Championships Finals and the Mike Booth Memorial. The Mike Booth Memorial was named after an NFR roper—a friend of ours—who passed away. It was held in the spring, around the time of the PRCA rodeo in Oakdale, California.

The year Tammy and I started dating, 1998, she entered the Mike Booth Memorial with a heeler named Mark Scobie. All the best ropers in the world were there. Tammy had just sold her good horse and was riding a new horse she had gotten as part of the deal. The horse was a little hot. And Tammy was the only woman competing. She and Mark won the whole thing.

I’d been focused on finding a male partner to rodeo with. It never occurred to me to consider a woman.

Until it did.

Maybe I have the best partner right here, I thought. Wait, is it even possible for Tammy to get a pro card for team roping?

Turns out it was.

Back then, the Barstow Rodeo was the first rodeo of the PRCA season. Tammy and I entered and won second. I had spent most of the previous season trying to fill my permit. Now, we both had our permits filled after one rodeo.

Born to Ride

Tammy: All I ever wanted to do from day one was ride horses. I never wanted to do anything else. Nothing. My dad has spent his whole life training horses and putting on roping schools. He got the passion from my grandfather.

I was born in Sonora, California, and grew up in the Central Valley, not far from Stockton. Dad got me my first pony when I was three. He tells me the pony was ornery. I didn’t ride with a saddle until I was much older. I rode that pony so much I callused his back.

I can’t remember the first time I picked up a rope. I can’t remember how I learned to throw a loop. It’s like I always knew. I spent hours and hours roping a dummy. As I got older, I begged Dad to let me rope a steer. Dad, can I rope? Dad, can I rope?

Aw, you don’t need to rope, he’d say. I was so teeny. He was probably scared I’d get hurt.

One day, when I was around twelve years old, Dad told me, “If you rope that steer from your pony, I’ll let you start catching some,” Dad said.

I caught that steer.

I started catching more and tying off. I started helping Dad put on his roping schools. I’d turn steers for people while they learned how to heel.

I’ll never forget: During my freshman year in high school, this boy came up to Dad and said, “Hey, I want to rope with your daughter at the high school rodeos.”

“Aw, she don’t need to do that,” Dad said. “Those parents just run that whole thing.”

Dad didn’t like the high school rodeo scene because of the way the parents pushed their kids and made them do everything instead of letting them take care of their own stuff. That was Dad’s way. From day one, Dad told me, If you can’t go get your own horse and saddle, you ain’t riding.

The boy said, “I’ll come and get her and take her there. You don’t even have to bring her.”

“Alright,” Dad said, looking at me. “If you find a ride, you can go to them.”

That year, we ended up qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I guess it was a big deal. But I didn’t go to Nationals. We didn’t have a lot of money for stuff like that.

My sophomore year, I didn’t high school rodeo. Dad took on a ranch job, and I did cowboy work for him—doctoring cows, riding fences. I remember waking up at 5:00 in the morning and getting on our horses when it was still dark and cold. My mom waitressed a few nights a week. I started bussing tables with her, even while I was in school, so I could earn a little gas money to get to the weekend ropings.

Back then, it was all about roping. Every night before I went to bed, I’d rope the dummy 100 times. Every. Single. Night. I did that for years. Dad would be shoeing horses and grading my throws. He’d have his head down or his back to me, but he could listen and tell how my loop landed.

Oh, that sounded like a B, he’d say. Or, maybe that was an A. Or, That one was a little flat—maybe a C.

The next year, instead of paying to go to high school rodeos, I went to these open ropings with another boy and won money.

During my junior year, a boy named Daniel Green insisted that I partner with him in the high school rodeos. That year, we won the California High School State Finals Rodeo. No girl had ever won it before.

Dad wasn’t there to see me win. When we got back from States, Daniel asked my dad, “Don’t you wish you were there?”

“Oh, I was with her,” Dad said. “Tammy knows that.”

Dad knew he didn’t need to be there in person. After all I time I spent with him riding horses and roping and putting on schools, I was prepared physically, mentally and emotionally. He knew I was strong enough to take care of myself and my horses. Some people might think he wasn’t being a good parent by not showing up. But he was a better parent for giving me the independence and responsibility to do it on my own.

I love the way he raised me. He tried to prepare his kids for life. He always trusted me.

That same year, Daniel and I qualified for Nationals. This time, I went. I loaded up my horse and drove myself from California to Oklahoma. I was sixteen years old. I hardly remember the competition. Daniel says he roped a leg for us to do real good. Me, I’m always looking for the next one.

Island Cowboy

I had a different childhood from Tammy, but my upbringing led me to the same place—horses and roping steers.

I grew up in Laguna Beach, California. My family had ties to the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, back when it was still ranch land. But when I was nine, my dad bought a small ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii, and we moved out there. I was kind of isolated and developed a love for animals, especially horses.

I learned to rope and ride, along with my best friend, a boy named Holi Bergen. My dad and Holi’s dad, a large-animal vet, started the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association in 1988. That was my senior year in high school, and it allowed me and Holi to qualify for the High School Nationals, held that year in Pueblo, Colorado. We represented the first Hawaiian team ever to travel to Nationals.

Dad was a pioneer in another other way, too. In Hawaii, nobody was raising cattle with horns. Since most Hawaiian cattle get shipped to the mainland, it’s easier to fit them on boats when they don’t have horns. But Dad, being a California roper, hated roping mulies around the neck. So Dad shipped over a load of long-horned Corriente cattle. We came to have the first horned team-roping cattle in Hawaii. Dad started putting on ropings. A family friend helped produce them. They started hosting USTRC events.

After high school, I moved back to California to attend California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. I college rodeoed and, in 1993, finished fifth in the team roping at Nationals.

I kept roping and training horses. That’s when I met Tammy and filled my permit and started rodeoing professionally. In fact, our PRCA contestant card numbers are only one digit apart. Mine is 27817, and Tammy’s is 27818.

We were both rookies in 1999, but, honestly, Tammy was mentally and physically ahead of me. She has a really good head for roping. Whether it’s roping or anything else, Tammy never doubts herself. Whatever the challenge, she rides into it.

It took me longer. I had been roping at a lot of jackpots, but rodeoing and jackpotting are different worlds. I was a little overwhelmed. Here I was competing at rodeos against Clay O’Brien Cooper and Allen Bach and all these other great ropers. I thought, Man, these guys are my idols. It was intimidating.

Tammy, on the other hand, would see the best headers in the world and act like, Whatever. I’m just doing my thing. I’m as good as you guys. She just had that inner confidence.

And all that traveling is a grind. You get in the truck and drive ten hours thinking about your failures. And you have to jump out and be ready to compete at the next one. That’s the hardest part of rodeoing.

Tammy could miss ten in a row—not that she ever did—or catch 10 in a row, and she’d be the same every time she backed in the box. That was her strength. I was more of a hothead, maybe wore it on my sleeve more.

We finished that first year, 1999, somewhere in the top fifty. We made our circuit finals, and we both won Rookie of the Year in our circuit.

Start-Up Business

In 2002, a friend of mine and I started experimenting with custom pads for horses. The original idea was to put company logos or people’s initials on the pads. Friends would give us their pads, and we’d tear the leathers off and redecorate them. At the time, the whole cowhide look was hot. We were going around finding hides wherever we could, cutting them by hand and using that to decorate people’s existing saddle pads.

Did I have any experience working with leather? None, other than occasionally fixing tack. I had to learn. I talked to people and found subcontractors. I would cut up the pieces by hand and take them to someone who embroidered them. I found a saddle maker, an older gentleman, who would sew everything back together.

My original partner moved away, and we split amicably. Tammy and I bought the rights to the company, and that gave us the motivation to see what we could do with it.

As the business grew, it became clear that we could offer much more than just a better-looking pad. With Tammy’s deep understanding of horses, we could offer pads with a truly customized fit.

But we would have to make everything in-house. I went to Los Angeles and found a bunch of old manufacturing equipment. Now we have two sewing machines, three embroidery machines, three leather presses and other equipment.

I’m more involved in the business side of things—the equipment, financing, sales and distribution—and Tammy knows how to build pads to fit the horses.

Best Ever keeps us in horses, our first love. It’s fun for us to sponsor cowboys and cowgirls who we know personally—Jade Corkill and Cesar de la Cruz and the Minor brothers. I saw these guys coming up, and now they’re among the best in the world. I feel like we’re part of what they’re doing. During the rodeo season, I follow them weekly. I think they appreciate that Tammy and I know how much work it takes to be good at roping and what a grind it can be. We’re not just some business that gets pads shipped to us from China. Whether it’s Walt Woodard—a guy I’ve always looked up to—or a kid like Cody Snow, who I knew when he was three years old, we’re in their corner.

They know they can always call us, and we’ll understand their issues. A heeler might call and say, Hey, my saddle is rolling. We’ll work with him to fix the problem. That’s where Tammy’s expertise comes in. She’s seen so many of these situations.

Not only do we have the insider knowledge, but also we actually care. We know how valuable it is to have a horse out there working and feeling good.

We know from all the riding we’ve done and all the saddles we’ve seen that when it comes to pads, one size does NOT fit all. Even our stock line of pads comes in different styles and sizes and thicknesses to accommodate a range of horse body types. If one of those doesn’t fit, we can build anything a customer wants. People bring their horses to us, and we take measurements. They send us photos. Tammy often Facetimes with customers.

Recently, a customer called to say her horse had a bone spur in its back. Tammy had the client measure how far back the spur was, and then we built a fleece pad that wouldn’t put pressure on the sensitive spot when she rode. It’s crazy to see how our pads can change a horse. Muscles atrophy when they’re not used. The right kind of pad can help horses move and breathe and use different muscles.

Cesar wanted a pad with a fleece bottom. That inspired us to create a pad we call the Fleesar, in honor of Cesar. It’s become one of our most popular pads, especially among the rodeo guys. They often show up and saddle a horse for just one run. The Fleesar warms up their back and gets a nice even sweat going.

Jade has always liked to use a Navajo blanket beneath his saddle pad. A couple years ago, we were fitting one of his horses for a pad. I sent him one of our newer pads that was a little thicker and suggested he use it all by itself. I know: How am I gonna tell a guy who’s got three gold buckles anything?

“Try it without that Navajo blanket,” I said. “Trust me on this one.” He did, and I guess it really helped the horse.

It feels good being able to help great competitors be even better.

Years ago, Tammy and I had a good run as team-roping partners. I’m especially proud of my groundbreaking wife’s accomplishments in the male-dominated world of team roping. We’re still partners, and we’re still following our passion for horses and roping.

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Check out the best source of real rodeo stories from the PRCA ProRodeo Journalism Award Winning source at >>> www.TheCowboyJournal.com

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