History Stays Alive in the
True Western Roundup
If you want to feel inspired about the future of humanity—to believe in its capacity for passion and compassion alike—all you need to do is listen to Jaida and Rylee Woody talk about their rodeo horses.
“It’s a lot of bonding,” Jaida says. “It’s a lot of connecting with your horse. It’s all about how much time we spend with them and work with them.”
“Mainly,” Rylee adds, “it’s about not failing my horses, because I love them so much.”
These two young women, 12-year-old twin sisters, travel around the Southwest from Las Vegas to New Mexico and everywhere in between to participate and compete in rodeo events. But their favorite event of all is right in their backyard: the True Western Roundup, which consists of 17 events in the 2021 Summer Rodeo Series in Durango and Cortez.
“We do many other events, but we love the True Western,” Jaida says. “It’s one of my favorite rodeos just because of how fun it is, and I love how they do juniors.”
Jaida is referencing one of two new special events in True Western Roundup’s rodeo lineup, both of which debuted in 2020. The Junior Rodeo was created to promote the sport to future generations of athletes, and the Cowgirls Kickin’ Cancer Women’s Rodeo was created to raise breast-cancer awareness. Both events have since been added to True Western’s annual series. The Junior Rodeo took place on May 15, 2021, and the Women’s Rodeo is scheduled for October 9, 2021—both at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds in Cortez.
Contestants for all the True Western Roundup events come from working ranches all around the Four Corners, says producer Pam Petrie. “It’s a way of life for them,” she says. “It’s what they love.”
It certainly is a way of life for the Woody twins, who are sponsored by Durango Magazine. They have been riding horses since they were two, and they first competed in lead line at three. Now, they both compete in barrel racing and pole bending, and Rylee also competes in goat tying.
“We grew up in the rodeo,” Rylee says. “My grandma got us into it all.”
Their grandma has gotten much of the family into rodeoing over the years—the twins’ uncles and mom have also participated. The whole family encourages the young women, and they credit all their success and passion to their family’s support.
“Even if we make a bad run,” Rylee says, “they’re always there for us, to say it’s OK, at least you tried your hardest.”
That kind of support, Jaida says, “is a really big deal to me. My grandma does anything to help us do the best we can, and so do my mom and my dad.”
The Woody family is not alone in its camaraderie. The community around the True Western Roundup—what Petrie calls the “rodeo family”—offers locals and visitors alike a place to gather, socialize, and experience the traditions of the American West.
“I love watching people who love our heritage and ag,” Petrie says. “I love watching their faces light up when they’re competing and when they’re successful. I love the spectators who come and the smiles on their faces.”
The True Western Roundup rodeo series strives to balance professionalism and fun. For many locals, these competitions are rooted in traditional ranch work, and the events tell part of their history. For many visitors, the rodeos are a chance to experience that history in a genuine setting.
“People come to our historical community, and they want to see a Western event,” Petrie says. “They come to Colorado to see the American cowboy. I hear that a lot.”
There is no doubt that the True Western Roundup is an economic boon for southwestern Colorado. At eight seasons and counting, it intends to remain a mainstay for years to come. For Petrie, the rodeo series is as much about the lessons it teaches as it is about the economic benefits of entertainment.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned in the ag world,” she says. “Caring for an animal is a gift you can give to your kids. When you care for an animal unconditionally, it really teaches you a lot about love and responsibility.”
Those are lessons that the Woody sisters have taken to heart, and it’s the reason they can speak with such clarity and pride about their experiences and growth in the rodeo. After all, the rodeo isn’t all about winning; like Petrie says, it’s about learning responsibility, honoring the rodeo heritage, and supporting other members of the rodeo family.
And, at the end of the day, it all comes down to this: a girl, her horse, and the arena.
“I love having a good run,” Rylee says. “It’s a really rewarding thing to know you put together a nice run.”
Jaida agrees. “I love how much work you put into it, and when you get a nice run or a win, it all pays off. I just love it so much. Even if we have a bad run, it’s fine. The horse tried their hardest. You tried your hardest.”