Courtesy photo
One of the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls riding in the flag at the presentation of the colors at the beginning of the rodeo at the County Fair. The California-based trick riding and roping team was the highlight of the fair.

Internationally known trip riding and roping team the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls were the featured rodeo performers at the annual Lincoln County Fair last week in Panaca.

The team, from Three Rivers, California, made their first appearance at the county fair.

Created in 1957 and known in the United States, Canada and 17 other countries, including several European countries and Australia, the nine-member team has even performed before Queen Elizabeth II during her 60-year Jubilee in 2012. A few members even were invited to have tea with the queen.

Only four members of the team performed at the Lincoln County Fair, but spectators spoke of how exciting it was to watch a top quality group of professional trick riders. One person said, “Those who know horse riding know how much practice, training, and skill it takes to do those things.”

Team advisor Sarah Thompson, originally from Australia, said she has been with the Riata program for seven years as a full-time performer and trainer.

She explained Riata Ranch is an organization committed to enriching and enlightening lives of young people through horsemanship and performance training. Valuable life lessons of hard work, discipline, pride, and respect are learned from the back of a horse.

It isn’t a school in the traditional sense, she noted. Many of the young women who come are already out of high school, but those who are not, are able to finish their diploma requirements through online study.

“We take all ages, from three years old and up, and during the winter we run a mentorship-leadership program, horsemanship, do chores on the ranch, trick riding, and trick roping. In the spring, summer, and fall are mainly when we are on the road performing,” she said.

A ranching or horse background is not required. “Some come there who don’t know how to ride, but we want them to be a part of the program, but they learn, and how to be a part of a program a little different,” she said.

Normally a nine-member team, Thompson said, “We have different girls come in throughout the year. Some are college students, so we can’t have them all the time.”

But the program is not only for performing, it is for mentoring and leadership training using horsemanship at the basis. Some of the younger, elementary, middle school and high school age girls may only come to the Ranch a few days a week. Some even live there for short periods.

Thompson said Riata Ranch, located only 10 minutes from Sequoia National Park, “is also an Airbnb, a type of bed and breakfast place, enabling people to lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms. But the main program is what we do with the girls through the winter and you can advance to the performance team if that’s what you want to do. We see a lot of girls learning a lot of skills that will benefit them in getting a job in other areas of life. We teach them how to talk and interact with the public, building confidence in young women.”

She, and the others on the team at the fair, Bec Circosta, Kirby McQueen, and Bailey Gable, thanked the people of Lincoln County for their hospitality. Thompson said, “Very often, it is the smaller rodeos that really look after you. And in smaller communities, it’s really all about helping one another. And we have really found that here.”

She said the team is willing to come back anytime.