Under the Resistol: The Incredible Man Underneath the Hat
It all started when Ken Bray was around 9 years old. That was the first time he competed in a rodeo. Bray grew up around cattle and the ranch lifestyle, as his father was in the cattle business. “We were horseback from the time we were little kids,” Bray said. “We just loved everything about being a cowboy. This was way before cell phones and video games, so working and looking forward to the few rodeos a year was just what my two brothers and I did.”
Bray remarked that rodeo when he grew up was nothing like it is today. He grew up in Dumas, Texas in the Texas Panhandle, where there were only three youth rodeo events a year. There was also no junior high rodeo program, so it went from youth rodeos straight into high school ones. Bray started off with the Tristate High School Rodeo Association. “That was bigtime because there were like 22 rodeos a year,” Bray said.
He recalled that 1980 was the first qualifying rodeo for that segment of Texas to qualify for the THRSA Finals. Bray was fortunate to qualify in calf roping, bulldogging and team roping. That same year, Ken and his brother qualified to go the National High School Rodeo Finals in Yakima, Washington. “That was the year Mount St. Helens erupted. So, that was a pretty incredible experience,” Bray said. “It was an amazing experience and it was an opportunity that I wanted to make sure that my kids got to enjoy. That experience got me scholarships for college and helped me get a college rodeo scholarship.”
Bray continued to rodeo in college at South Plains College and then, Tarleton State University. After he graduated, he went on to compete in amateur and PRCA Circuit Rodeos and became a Jackpot Team Roper.
Now, Bray is the CEO of Equibrand Corporation, which is a collection of brands. Classic Rope Rattler Rope, Classic Equine, Martin Saddlery and Cashel Company are all under the Equibrand umbrella. They also have an entertainment division that includes the Racer’s Edge television show and podcast. Classic Rope and Rattler Rope are National and Texas High School Rodeo sponsors, while Classic Equine is a Texas High School Rodeo sponsor.
Ken owes a lot to the sport of rodeo, including the introduction of his wife, Billie. They met for the first time at a calf roping jackpot being held during the College National Finals Rodeo in Bozeman, Montana. The two got married in 1994. Billie works alongside Ken as the Vice President of Marketing for Equibrand. In her role, Billie makes sure that Equibrand is heavily involved in the promotion of all western equine sports. She manages the sponsorships that Equibrand has with THSRA, NHSRA, NRCHA, Ultimate Calf Roping and United States Team Roping Championship, as well as others. Billie also works with smaller youth rodeo associations across the country and is on the road almost year-round to support them. “We believe in doing our part to cultivate and support youth involvement in all equine sports. She works alongside a great team at here at Equibrand to cover all the bases,” Bray said.
Ken and Billie have two children, Paden (21) and Wyatt (19). Both boys have grown up in the rodeo world, starting in the junior high division (TJHRA) and then moving onto the high school division (THSRA). They are also both rodeo rockstars, as they both previously qualified for the Junior High School Rodeo National Finals and the High School Rodeo National Finals. These big accomplishments helped both boys secure rodeo scholarships for college. Paden is currently a junior at Tarleton State University and Wyatt is a freshman at Cisco Junior College. Paden was also named the 2019 PRCA Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year!
Ken loves the western industry and the brotherhood that is rodeo culture. “It’s a competition playing field like no other. People truly want to try to win every time on their own, but 99.9% of them are also there to help you win as well,” Bray said. He went on to add that “it is a sport no one can perfect. It continues to evolve in terms of its level of competition. As new products come through the market and new young talent comes up through the ranks, it just gets tougher and faster. That’s exciting to me because it is a sport that never truly plateaus.”
Ken previously served THSRA as the Region III President, State Director and Executive Director. In 2017, Ken was recruited by his fellow executive board members to run for the position of Texas High School Rodeo Association President. “I was honored that they had asked me to run for it. I was happy to serve at any level,” Bray said.
He felt that it was important for him to serve in this position so he could give back to the sport that has given him so much. “The industry and the sport has been amazing and fantastic for me and my family and my business,” Bray said. “I think it is important we give back and pay it forward.”
“Ken has a unique perspective when it comes to high school and junior high rodeo,” THSRA Marketing and Public Relations Director Holly DeLaune said. “Functioning in the diverse roles of rodeo parent, western industry business owner and even a contestant himself he knows how critical the health and success of high school rodeo is to not only the contestants today, but rodeo as a whole for years to come. He works tirelessly at a “job” that is thankless because he wants Texas rodeo athletes to have the best opportunities possible.”
The president position is completely volunteer, and Ken does this job with ease, never asking for any credit or praise. As Ken and many close to him will tell you, he is there to make sure the kids are taken care of. “I think the most important part of volunteerism is that our kids our worth it,” Bray said.
“He has the kid’s best interests at heart. He is in it for the kids, not any other reason,” THSRA Secretary and Treasurer Susan Baldwin said. “He knows that they are our future of the industry and the sport. He just wants to do anything and everything he can to further their education and give them the best experience in the arena. He just has so much compassion for these kids.”
As president of THSRA, Bray loves that he gets to work with a great team to ensure that THRSA remains vibrant and strong for years to come. “I am grateful to be a part of a fantastic board of likeminded people that truly care about Texas youth and the sport of rodeo,” Bray said. “They are all committed to excellence in the terms of quality rodeo production and doing what they can to help keep the kids in the state of Texas be provided with an amazing platform for fairness in competition and opportunity for scholarships that help them pursue a higher education that benefits well into the future. ”
Together, the board has been able to accomplish a lot while Bray has served as president. He believes that their greatest achievements as a collective board are higher THSRA Finals payouts and more scholarships. The current board has done so much work to build and protect the scholarships funds. They have awarded over $100,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors each year and have also added around $50,000 to the payouts for the High School Finals.
Bray is also extremely proud of the work the board has done to have one of the first rodeos in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He believed that it was very important to still have the THRSA Finals this year “because Texas is like no other. Texas is one of four states in the National High School Rodeo Association that has a region program,” Bray said. “These kids bought memberships and worked their butts off all year to qualify for the state finals. Just to qualify for the state finals is a huge accomplishment. They deserved the opportunity to fulfill their goals and their dreams and to compete for that state championship title. Also, without a state finals, Texas would not be able to send a team to the national finals. I just felt it was incredibly important that we make this happen for all of the kids and families who have invested so much of their time, energy and effort to make it happen in the arena.”
This wasn’t easy, however, as the federal, state and local guidelines that surrounded the coronavirus crisis were everchanging. Bray expanined that there were new restrictions or recommendations on the daily, so the guideline proposal they submitted was having to be constantly tweaked.
“We just didn’t take no for an answer,” Bray said. “We kept working with government agencies and the local government around Abilene to find a program that they could endorse and would allow us to have our event.”
“We couldn’t ask for a better president of the Texas High School Rodeo Association with everything that is going on,” Junior High National Director Chris Wolfe said. “He has taken leadership of that role and done an excellent job.”
Because of Bray and the board’s work, Texas has set an example for other states. There are four other states that have adopted the guidelines and procedures put forth by the board of THSRA and have gotten a sign off from their state government to be able to have rodeo state finals. “It makes me feel really good that not only are we helping the kids of Texas, we are helping kids across the United States,” Bray said. “The good work we did with our guidelines and procedures ended up benefiting more than just Texas.”
“Without Ken Bray there would not have been a 2020 Texas High School State Finals Rodeo this year… period. He is too humble to probably even accept that statement, but it is absolutely true,” DeLaune said. “The odds were not in our favor this year, but Ken would not take no for an answer. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Bray shared some advice that he wants to pass along to all of those competing at the Texas High School Rodeo Association State Finals this year: “Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy the moment. Also, don’t let the Texas High School Rodeo Association experience define you. Go in there, be prepared to compete and give it your all. Leave it all in the arena,” Bray said. “There are World Champion PRCA Cowboys that did not advance out of the state of Texas. The competition is just that tough. So, come with high goals and expectations but don’t let any experience you have at the finals dampen the opportunity of being there and competing at that level.”