A tall, handsome man in his 40s, Lee 'Boogie' Ray has spent much of his adult life traveling around the country in search of the rodeo dream.
Like most rodeo riders, Ray took up the sport as it ran in the family, working his way up from the amateur levels. “My grandparents had horses, my parents went to rodeos and I started learning to rope as a young kid,” he says. “I was probably around eight or nine when I first competed and I fell in love with it straight away.”
Ray is no fool with a rope – he once came third in the Pro World Championships in Las Vegas – but he admits that whatever level you rodeo at, making a real living from the sport is something that is the preserve of a small few.
“The main reason I started to slow down from competing all the time was because finding sponsorship is tough. It becomes a real burden trying to find the money to do it. Those who can make a full-time living out of it are miniscule. We aren’t Nascar riders or football players – we don’t make anything near that kind of sponsorship.”
With a family of a wife and two young daughters, Ray has now taken a full-time job as a ranch hand on a large estate outside of Dallas and only competes occasionally – but he has no regrets from a life on the road, where his children were homeschooled to enable him to follow his dream.
“What it did, was give us the chance to travel around the country as a family. We got to meet different people, see different parts of the country. We didn’t just show up for me to compete and leave, we used to really see the places we went to, from Yellowstone to the beaches of California.
"My girls would love to go back on the road and do more of it – they would love to do rodeo themselves – but I need to help them get through college.”
When he does compete these days, it is at the Mesquite Arena, some 20 miles west of Dallas. A mid-level arena, somewhere between the wholesome feel of the WRCA events and the larger pro-rodeo arenas, the 3,000 or so people in the crowd make enough noise for ten times that amount when he enters on horseback.
“The thrill of the crowd sure provides a buzz, whatever level you compete at," Ray tells me. Here, in his own backyard, Ray is one of the stars of the show.
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