Beyond the Red and Black with
Story and Photos by Amanda Lima
It’s July 31, 2009, in Eagle, Colo. Ryan Gray’s normal routine of preparing mentally and physically is fiercely tested by the unfriendly and extreme weather. Ryan is focused on making a good ride by trusting his skills, ability and equipment, all the while the rain is pouring down. What happens next is unpredictable. How Ryan got to this moment is not.
Since Ryan got on his first calf at only 5-years-old, his dreams of riding broncs grew stronger with every ride, especially considering his family’s history in rodeo.
“I’ve been around rodeo since I was a little kid.” Ryan said. “I had an uncle that used to ride bareback horses, and I loved watching him ride.”
Ryan remembers how exciting his first professional rodeo was when he was only 18 and still in high school.Ryan had the opportunity to ride in Spokane, Wash., with all the guys he looked up to like Marvin and Mark Garrett, Clint Corey and other cowboys he grew up watching on TV.
“It was amazing to not only be at the same rodeo,” Ryan said, “but also compete with such talent as them.”
Without hesitation, Ryan appreciatively said his parents, Kevin and Deb, were his greatest influences.
“They were the ones that taught me to take everything seriously and always give more than 100 percent effort at any task.”
In addition to all of the moral support, Ryan’s parents spent countless hours and miles driving Ryan to and from each rodeo from his first event as a young boy all the way through his high school rodeo career.
After high school, Ryan was determined to find a college that would provide both a good educational foundation and a reputable rodeo team. Ryan chose to attend Odessa College to rodeo and study business management. There, he began dating Lacy Bohlander during his freshman year.
After rodeoing together and dating for two years, the couple decided to get their bachelor’s degrees at Texas Tech.
He thoroughly enjoyed his professors in CASNR while majoring in agricultural leadership, and he continued to ride for the Tech rodeo team.
“To my surprise,” Ryan said, “each teacher was friendly and willing to work with me and my rodeo schedule.”
Despite the difficulty of missing classes due to rodeos, Ryan viewed college as he would a business.
“You have to be organized and learn to balance your school schedule with your personal life, regardless,” Ryan said.
During Ryan’s last year of college he proposed to his college sweetheart, Lacy, and they married May 20, 2006, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Ryan graduated from Tech in December of 2006 and has since been hitting the road hard. Lacy works around her own busy schedule of owning her own custom jewelry and purse business in order to attend Ryan’s rodeos and cheer from the stands.
Despite not being able to have his wife by his side at every event, Ryan travels with the best of bareback riders and some of his best friends. Ryan said he cannot remember a rodeo this year that at least one of his traveling partners didn’t win or at least place.
“When you are around guys that are constantly winning, you just can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself, even if you are going through a rough time,” Ryan said.
The traveling team’s positive attitude, upbeat personality and winning mentality rub off on each other.
“The people you surround yourself with are the people who encourage you the most.”
The rain continued to pour on that dark Colorado night as Ryan mounted his horse. He squeezed his legs around the mare as he felt her tighten up followed by his flank strap.
As the chute gate opened, the mare headed out challenging Ryan with every move, which was more than he expected. Despite the miserable weather conditions, Ryan held on with control and stayed in sync with the mare.
As the eight-second whistle blew, Ryan leaped over to the safety of the pick up men. He quickly ran to retrieve his soaking wet equipment from the other side of the flooded arena and headed to covered shelter. Ryan waited with anticipation for the announcer to say his score.
In all his years of riding he had never heard a crowd cheer so loud and enthusiastically. Ryan made history that day.
“I knew it was a good ride, but I had no idea I just tied the bareback world record with a 94-point ride.”