For eight long seconds on a recent Saturday in Bulverde, hundreds of eyes were glued to the kicked-up dust cloud and the gnash of horns and flailing limbs as one rodeo cowboy held tightly to the bull in the center arena at Tejas Rodeo Company.

For 18 years, the company has been putting on a show for locals and visitors, now averaging 40 rodeos a season and 1,500 spectators every Saturday night from March to November.

The Saturday night rodeo consists of 10 events: a grand entry, followed by bull riding, a drill team performance, team roping, mutton busting and a calf scramble for children. Then there’s breakaway roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing and finally, more bull riding.

A night at the rodeo

Team roper and Bulverde native Luke McClanahan has been competing for 50 years at Tejas Rodeo and across the country. In the team roping event, winning is about getting the fastest time possible, working in a pair as one ropes a calf’s horns and the other ropes the feet. McClanahan said after all his years of experience, he doesn’t get jitters anymore, despite all the risks that come with the territory.

At the end of the rodeo season, Tejas crowns a winner in each event as riders rack up points according to how they place each weekend. As of June 15, McClanahan is fifth out of 35 heelers in the team roping event, which he owes to his long years of experience and horsemanship.

“Lots of people can rope, but not everybody’s a horseman,” McClanahan said.

Contestants perform in the team roping event at the Tejas Rodeo Company.
Contestants perform in the team roping event at the Tejas Rodeo Company. Credit: Clint Datchuk for the ISF FORUM

McClanahan’s expertise shows as he swiftly lassos the calf alongside his partner. The whole thing is over almost in the blink of an eye, but those precious seconds make or break the score. 

Though McClanahan’s duo came in sixth place on June 15, he is no stranger to winning. On his horse Angel, a 22-year-old mare, he won the 2018 World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas, splitting a $282,000 prize with his partner.

On a horse named Cash is 11-year-old Jade Hall, who competes in the barrel racing event. She said she enjoys the fun of her event, but watching her distance as she goes around the barrels can be tricky.

The June 15 rodeo was Hall’s first time competing at Tejas Rodeo Company, but she said she felt prepared, being familiar with it from watching her brother and mother ride here. She still gets a little nervous when she’s out in the arena, but luckily, she said she has a trick to get herself through it.

“Don’t think about it, just do it,” Hall said.

A contestant warms up with their horse before competing at Tejas Rodeo Company. Credit: Clint Datchuk for the ISF FORUM

Safety first

But before any bull bucks a cowboy off and any horse gallops through, safety is a top priority for Tejas Rodeo co-owner Yancey James and his team as they prepare the arena. It’s a topic that has been increasingly on the minds of the rodeo world in recent years, as contestants wear much more protective gear than they did in the past — a positive change, if you ask James. 

“Being a former rider, we didn't have the things that they have now — the helmets, the vest, those things that these contestants are able to ride with — and it took me a while to come around,” James said. “It's not a bad idea. I'm glad that they do use it so they can keep getting on and doing what they love to do.”

It isn’t just the contestants whose safety is a consideration. The animals, who James called “our babies,” are cared for to the highest degree, and their experience is just as important as the humans who ride and rope them. The arena is watered and raked the morning of the rodeo, as footing is crucial for animals competing at high speeds, and the bulls wear helmets that protect them during the bull riding event.

“We're proud of our program and how the animals are taken care of,” James said. “You take a bull, he's got eight seconds, [at maximum] maybe three if the guy didn't ride him very long, and he runs right back to water and feed for another seven days. So that's his life, and it's a pretty good one.”

Keeping the tradition alive

James was a professional bull rider for 11 years prior to founding Tejas Rodeo Company in 2006 with his business partner, Trey Martin. 

“I traveled all across the United States, Canada and a little bit into Mexico, and that's what I did,” James said. “I rode bulls for a living and I'd be at three, four, sometimes six rodeos a week all over just traveling.”

When he retired from bull riding in 2003, James began to train horses at Martin’s facility in Bulverde. At the time, it comprised only a few stalls and an uncovered arena, but the two quickly began to make some improvements. They covered the arena and added bucking chutes, and suddenly they had themselves a rodeo.

“Our first rodeo was a hit, and it just kind of took off,” James said. “We just started adding things as we went.”

The Tejas Rodeo Company features a steakhouse and saloon that is open throughout the week.
The Tejas Rodeo Company features a steakhouse and saloon that is open throughout the week. Credit: Clint Datchuk for the ISF FORUM

While the rodeo is the main attraction, the 71-acre property is home to a steakhouse, a vendor market and a stage and dance floor for live music. Tejas Rodeo Company is also a working ranch, and the ranchers are up every morning to take care of the animals, even if the last one leaves the rodeo at 3 a.m.

With his work at Tejas Rodeo Company, James wants to share his love of rodeo with the people who visit. On any given Saturday night, the sold-out stands are filled with hundreds of spectators. Some are locals, but visitors from all across the globe are frequent, coming from as far as Singapore and the United Kingdom.

For many of these visitors, rodeo is a novelty. But to James, rodeo is more than that. It’s a way of life and a career for the people who compete.

“That's one thing that people don't understand about rodeo cowboys and cowgirls,” James said. “That's their job. That's what they do. So they have to be going somewhere and competing, and that's how they're making a living. That's how they're paying their bills.”

Members of the Tejas Rodeo Rough Riders exit the Tejas Rodeo Company arena after performing.
Members of the Tejas Rodeo Rough Riders exit the Tejas Rodeo Company arena after performing. Credit: Clint Datchuk for the ISF FORUM

After more than 700 rodeos in this arena, James says he still loves watching the athleticism of the contestants and the animals.

“There's nothing more exciting than when you're so close here you can see the competition, you can see the sweat rolling down the guy's face when he knows he has to rope fast, or the girl has to run fast in the barrels, “ James said. “It's down to earth, which is, in my mind, true Western heritage and Texas history.”

Emma Weidmann is a student journalist at Baylor University, but she grew up in San Antonio and loves being in the city when she’s back home. She is especially passionate when writing about music and...