Whether superstitious or not, 13 was “the lucky trip” for the Lonesome Pine Ranch this time.
“This is what we’ve been shooting for all of these years, and it finally came together,” exclaimed Bud Higgs as he was driving “the team” back to his Flint Hills headquarters at Cedar Point.
With his family and two more of undisputedly the best cowboys in the country, Higg’s Chase County, Kansas, Lonesome Pine Ranch team was still on a boot to the throttle high after being named champions at the 20th annual World Championship Ranch Rodeo, sponsored by Working Ranch Cowboys Association in Amarillo, Texas.
“Top Hands” make a championship team, true of any sport, but it was certainly verified by the Lonesome Pine lineup’s accomplishments.
“There’ve been other members of our ranch team through the years, but we have the strongest one now. It’s been my goal to win every time we’ve competed at the WRCA Finals, 13 times. Even more so this year, with such great working cowboys, and it finally all came together,” Higgs evaluated.
Especially significant to the accomplishment is that the Lonesome Pine Ranch team includes Bud’s dad Frank, son Troy and daughter Makenzie.
“That makes our win even more special, but we couldn’t have done it without Chris Potter and Travis Duncan. They are both outstanding all-around cowboys. Chris won the ranch bronc riding, which was a major accomplishment, along with our team winning the wild cow milking competition,” Higgs said.
Lonesome Pine Ranch also placed seventh in the team branding event.
Further adding to the significance of the world title, the Lonesome Pine Ranch had been reserve world champions for the past two years, but they’re bridesmaids no longer.
“It takes some luck, yet top cowboys riding top horses working together are essential to win a ranch rodeo. Every one of the 23 teams, and more than 100 cowboys, at Amarillo were tough, without question, and can certainly win any time in their own given day. But, fortunately it worked for us this time,” Higgs evaluated.
Actually, one might even say the “biggest show of the year” was “just another rodeo” for the Lonesome Pine Ranch team, to which winning is nothing new.
Frank Higgs is the team “scorekeeper,” so to speak, as Bud referred to his dad in the adjoining travel-home truck seat, for the year’s tally. “With this one, we’ve been to 25 rodeos and won 11 of them. We were second eight times, and third three times,” Frank calculated.
Those competitions have been all over Kansas, into Colorado, Oklahoma and climaxing in Texas.
Lonesome Pine Ranch topped this year’s Kansas Championship Ranch Rodeo at Medicine Lodge, qualifying the team for the World Championship Ranch Rodeo.
However, Lonesome Pine had previously earned that opportunity, actually twice, by winning two WRCA-sanctioned qualifying-rodeos.
Thus, the second place state team, the Keith Cattle and Robbins Ranch, Lyon County, had the privilege of also representing the Kansas Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo.
Three additional Kansas teams, Lazy B Ranch, Ellsworth County; Stock Ranch & Diamond E Ranch, Bourbon County; and Broken H Ranch & H Cross Cattle, Bronson, competed, too, being eligible from their wins at WRCA qualifying-rodeos during the year.
Other Kansas teams’ placings in the event averages at Amarillo included ranch bronc riding, Stock Ranch & Diamond E Ranch, 10th; team penning, Keith Cattle & Robbins Ranch, eighth, and Broken H Ranch & H Cross Cattle, ninth; wild cow milking, Broken H Ranch & H Cross Cattle, fifth, and Stock Ranch & Diamond E Ranch, 10th; and team branding, Lazy B Ranch, ninth.
Hard luck cowboy of the competition was Bruce Beeman of the Broken H Ranch & H Cross Cattle team. “He made a qualified ride on his first bronc, but had a crash landing that would have deterred many cowboys. However, Bruce came back, rode his second bronc, making 26 qualified rides in succession on ranch rodeo broncs, which must be some sort of record in itself,” Higgs complimented the competition-team cowboy
Members of the Keith Cattle & Robbins Ranch team are Justin Keith, Brian Keith, Clay Wilson, Adrian Vogel, Billy Lauer and Connor Grokett.
Lazy B Ranch team members are Eric Bohl, Scott Bohl, Austin Rathbun, Clint Donley, and Wayne Bohl. Riding for Broken H & H Cross along with Beeman are Cliff Hall, Doug Hall, and Lucas Litteral. The Stock Ranch & Diamond E cowboys are Andy Eck, Troy Felt, Coy Heier and Kolby Stock.
Second place team at Amarillo was Sandhill Cattle Company, Earth, Texas, followed by JO Bar Ranch & Hatchet Ranch, Lordsburg and Hachita, N.M., and fourth, Jolly Ranch& Lord Ranch, Agate and Lamar, Colorado.
Winning the wild cow milking average was significant for Lonesome Pine, but making the accomplishment even more memorable for team members, the spectator crowd and future competitors was the time for their Sunday run. “Our 18.7 seconds set an arena record in the wild cow milking event, which really pleased us,” Higgs said.
From Maple City, Potter is no newcomer to riding ranch broncs, seldom getting off before the eight-second buzzer. “Chris marked 77 points on his first bronc, and then clinched the event for our team with 84 points on his second bronc,” Higgs said.
Getting bucked off hasn’t happened often to Potter, either, in the past 17 years. “I must have been on a couple hundred competition broncs, rode most of them, but I was knocked unconscious when a couple did get me bucked off. I went five years without ever being thrown,” said Potter, who had his own positive premonition in January.
Potter’s text message “2015 World Champs” to his cowboy friend Travis Duncan of Uniontown convinced Duncan to join the Lonesome Pine Ranch team this year. “It’s true that our team is fortunate to have Travis along with Chris. They’re both top horsemen, have good cow savvy, and Travis ropes quite well, too” Higgs credited.
However, it’s the Higgs family who make up the core and majority of the team. Higgs himself has received a number of cowboy versatility recognitions over the past two decades, and his son Troy, an agriculture student at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, is an all-around athlete, having collected top hand awards at ranch rodeos, too.
The only cowgirl on the team, and one of few at the world championship, Higgs’ daughter Mackenzie has been captain of several Lonesome Pine Ranch teams, winning top honors at Youth Ranch Rodeos, and did the calf branding at the Amarillo rodeo.
Senior team member Frank Higgs was horseback each rodeo performance’s grand entry, and mounted-ready if called into arena action.
Especially significant to the elder Higgs was that the horses, Ginger Joe and Grasshopper, ridden by his son and grandson, were his Quarter Horse breeding going back more than a half a century
“My involvement with Quarter Horses has given me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. I have made some lifelong friends and acquaintances. The horses are also used as tools to work cattle, so they are a necessity for what we do. It is always satisfying to know you have a horse that will ‘get’r done,” said Frank Higgs, who’s has raised many top Quarter Horses showing them to state and national championships and has been honored as a 50-year breeder by the American Quarter Horse Association.
All of the Higgs family is mounted horseback for their ranch profession as cowherd breeders and looking after grazing cattle in the Flint Hills. “I especially enjoy getting to be a part of the ranch and the rodeos with my son and grandchildren. That’s worth a lot; you can’t put a price on it, really,” Frank said.
But, sense of family extends beyond blood ties at the Working Ranch Cowboy Association World Championship, according to Bud Higgs.
“We always enjoy competing with the other cowboys, talking to them about their horses, their ranches, how we all work alike, and but also sometimes how their operations are quite different than what we do. They’re really our family, too,” said Higgs, actually considering the championship ranch rodeo his family’s annual vacation.
“This year, some of the cowboys were riding horses of the same lineage as ours, which was interesting, and gave us an even closer tie,” Higgs said.
Friendships among ranch families are always strong, as cowboys are typically quick to offer a hand up to those who need help.
Chris Potter exemplified this when he and his wife, Amy, made a donation to the Working Ranch Cowboys Foundation, and publicly challenged others to do the same.
“The World Champion Ranch Rodeo is more than just a rodeo. It’s actually the primary fundraiser for the Working Ranch Cowboys Foundation, which helps cowboys who have become sick or injured, and offers scholarships to ranch children going to college,” Potter said.
It’s a long drive from Texas to the Chase County, Kansas, Flint Hills, yet a fast jaunt this year for the world champion Lonesome Pine Ranch team that was back to work upon arrival home, checking cows, feeding yearlings, doing horse chores and making plans.
“Now, we have to start getting ready, going to rodeos and getting qualified for next year’s world championship ranch rodeo. A rancher sure can’t live on his laurels of the past,” Bud Higgs assured.