Two locals saddling up for Rodeo China
June 26, 2011
CARBONDALE – Two local young rodeo riders, one from Carbondale and the other from Basalt, are about to become cowboy ambassadors to China.
Stormy Havens, 19, of Basalt and Taylor Vagneur, 18, of Carbondale, emerged from a field of 120 Colorado 4-H Club members to introduce Western U.S. rodeo culture to China.
Through the Rodeo China project, Havens and Vagneur will travel with the U.S. Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to Beijing for a week of rodeos, Oct. 3-10, the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, and workshops with Chinese youth.
“I’m really excited to show them the 4-H culture,” said Havens, who has been in the club since she was 8.
“It’s just an honor that I actually got chosen,” Vagneur said. “I didn’t think I would be. Mom talked me into sending an application in.”
The pair will be among 60 teens, mostly from Colorado, who will represent the Colorado and national 4-H organizations, the Colorado Future Farmers of America and the National Little Britches Rodeo Association.
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The overall event will involve eight nightly rodeos in the Beijing National Stadium, otherwise known as the Bird’s Nest, site of the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics.
It will include approximately 150 professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, accompanied by roughly 200 horses, bulls and other rodeo livestock, according to an account in the May 5 edition of China Daily, an online English news outlet.
Jeff Goodwin, director of the Colorado 4-H Program, said the youth contingent actually will not be riding in the rodeos with the adult professionals. The teens will be teaching about 3,000 young Chinese about Western culture, handling livestock and the discipline of rodeo.
“We’ll teach them just the basic principles of working with livestock,” Goodwin explained. The instruction, he said, will start with an exercise of sorting calves on foot instead of on horseback.
In addition, Goodwin said, the Chinese youngsters will be instructed in roping, riding through a flat course, and mutton busting: That’s the practice of perching a youngster on the back of a sheep, letting the sheep gallop around the arena, and seeing how long the youngster can hang on.
As an added bonus, Goodwin confided, actor Jackie Chan will take part in the event, and ESPN is expected to document it on video.
“It’s kind of a historic thing,” he said of the production, noting that the Resistol hat company, a favorite for Westerners, will give away free straw cowboy hats to all who attend on the first night.
Havens and Vagneur are valley natives from families that have been here for generations.
Stormy Havens is the daughter of Heidi and Troy Havens. Heidi is a lifelong 4-H participant herself, and Troy runs the cheering section at their daughter’s rodeo and competition events.
Taylor Vagneur is the son of Billi and John Vagneur. Billi is the organizational leader of the Mount Sopris 4-H group, and John often can be found grooming the practice arena or exercising Taylor’s horse until he shows up from his job to ride.
Both teens have considerable experience in the local rodeo community and have been active in 4-H, as competitors raising and showing livestock, and in leadership roles.
Havens tutored middle school students when she was a junior in high school, helping Spanish-speakers improve their English skills. She also has a summer job at the Aspen Riding Academy teaching kids how to ride and take care of horses.
She has traveled widely to other countries. “Everywhere I go, I try to spread my own knowledge about horses and about rodeo,” she noted in her application form for Rodeo China.
Vagneur has been a junior leader in his 4-H club, and traveled with People To People as a student ambassador to New Zealand and Australia.
Both compete regularly in the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo at the Gus Darien Riding Arena.
Although neither Havens nor Vagneur speaks Chinese, Havens said she is pretty good at Spanish and is eager to give Chinese a try.
As part of their duties, the pair will be expected to wear everyday cowboy gear, including jeans, Western belts and hats, boots and other gear.
They’ll go to Pueblo for preliminary training for the 60 Rodeo China teens July 2-3. They’ll learn about the events they will teach, effective teaching practices and an introduction to Chinese culture.
Vagneur, describing what he might talk about with the Chinese youngsters he will be instructing, said, “Obviously, about the rules, the different things you’re going to be doing in rodeo.” Then he paused, searching for more words, and added, “Probably country music, if I run out of things to say. I’m a music nut.”
He said he plays drums, guitar, bass and piano, and sings a little bit.
As the interview came to a close, Vagneur prepared to mount up and join the other 4-H riders in the arena.
But before he did, his dad walked over and said gruffly, “Tuck it in,” pointing to the shirttail hanging outside his son’s pants.
“But I’m not there yet,” the younger Vagneur shot back with a grin.
“Dress code,” his dad replied, also smiling. “Tuck it in.” Which Taylor did.
The way it happened
According to Jeff Goodwin, the rodeo visitation is the brainchild of a retired manufacturer of women’s western wear named Richard Tucker, and his wife, Carrie, a student of Chinese studies, who live in South Carolina.
Frequent travelers to China for business, educational programs and recreation, the Tuckers came up with the idea for a rodeo demonstration last year and put the event together.
The trip is all-expenses-paid for the rodeo professionals as well as the 4-H and other participants, Goodwin said, courtesy of the Tuckers.
Plus, Goodwin said, the Tuckers have put of $8 million in prize money for the rodeos.
Goodwin said he was not sure whether the Chinese are “crazy for cowboys” the way Europeans are, but added, “I guess that’s what they’re banking on.”
He said the organizers are expecting to fill the Bird’s Nest every night to its limit of 85,000, and that the Tuckers have hopes to put on similar exhibitions in other countries around Asia.
“My interest,” Goodwin concluded, is for the leadership and personal development of these 20 kids. I think they’re going to learn a lot about working with people that are different from them.”