By Jolee Jordan
Jourdanton, Texas—The laughter of a child can be the song for which a parents’ heart beats but for parents with a child battling terminal illness or physical adversities due to critical injuries, those laughs and smiles can be too few and much too far between.
Ropin Dreams was established 15 years ago with the goal of bringing smiles to those kids and their families. They do so by ropin’ the kids’ dreams and dragging them into reality.
More than 750 kids in 18 states have been recipients of this great program, earning fun filled days meeting cowboys and cowgirls at the rodeo, visiting Sea World, or just about anything else a child’s imagination can sprout.
“[If they want a rodeo experience], we take them to the western store and buy them new boots and a hat, get them completely decked out in rodeo attire,” say Danny Reagan, owner of United Pro Rodeo Company and a Ropin Dreams Board member for nearly a decade. “It’s the greatest thing ever to the kids.”
Reagan knew Ropin Dreams founders Dub and Cindy McClister from his time spent in California and decided to get involved with the cause. Offering support financially as well as through time, Reagan’s United Pro Rodeo owns V70 Ropin Dreams, a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) bucking horse that carries the foundation’s name to help raise awareness.
Last year, Reagan and United Pro Rodeo stepped up to help produce the Ropin Dreams Pro Rodeo held in Jourdanton, Texas at the Cowboy Fellowship of Atascosa County Arena.
“Last year it was a startup,” notes Reagan of the inaugural event, acknowledging the challenges of mounting a new event within pro rodeo. “This year was really good; the rodeo was paid for by sponsorship when it started.”
The goal is to raise funds for the group, allowing them to continue to provide dreams to kids. In the past, Ropin Dreams has hosted a Celebrity Golf Tournament and been the recipients of funds raised at Mike White’s Annual Pasture Roping and Benefit. White, a PRCA World Champion Bull Rider, is also on the Board of Ropin Dreams.
“We’re mostly dealing with kids with cancer,” Reagan says, adding that they’ll also take cowboys to the kids in hospitals. “We’re lucky . . . my kids were all healthy. But for the parents [of Ropin Dreams kids], they spend 24 hours a day in the hospital, watching their kids and hoping they’ll get better. They don’t know what regular life is anymore.”
That’s where Ropin Dreams steps in, aiming to provide a little relief, at least for a time, from the constant worry and scare of a child’s illness.
“Everything we do for the family is completely paid for during their day,” Reagan says of each kids’ day in the spotlight. “At my rodeos, we always introduce the kids during the rodeo. We try to make it all about them.”
“We go every year for hospital visits and we go to the Butterfly Room (a hospice room at Texas Children’s Hospitals). Those kids aren’t ever going to leave that room. But when the cowboys walk in, it’s all grins from the kids. ”
Reagan makes a point that everything taken in as donations goes to the kids and families receiving dreams. The organization is 100% volunteer run.
“We put a lot of our own time and money into it and it’s important that all the money goes to the kids. No one is being paid to run Ropin Dreams.”
The second annual Ropin Dreams Pro Rodeo was a big success in all aspects and Reagan had high praise for the committee people who put the rodeo together.
“They worked their butts off,” he said, noting the extra care and effort that went into the ground conditions in 2018. “The dirt was excellent.”
“It’s a work in progress but everyone is working hard.”
Calling herself fortunate and grateful, Tillar Murray lived out a dream of her own last season, qualifying for her first Wrangler NFR. The Fort Worth native won a go round and finished sixth in the final WPRA World standings.
Since the new year began, Murray has been taking it easy on the rodeo road, taking more time to concentrate on school. She’s a junior at University of Texas in Austin.
“I spent so much time on the road last year, I wanted to enjoy the whole college life, spend time with friends,” she says. Murray is working toward a triple major, business honors, finance and liberal arts with sights set on someday being in equity planning/wealth management or maybe commercial banking.
Murray rode a trio of tough horses last year including the lightning fast Royal Star Commander (Commander), reliable Lil Gracie Dude (Tic Tac) and the always consistent Dirty Dan Stinson (Dan).
With Dan suffering an injury at the start of the season, and 18 year old Tic Tac on a well deserved break, it was easy for Murray to slow down her rodeo schedule, not wanting to put too many runs on Commander.
Murray’s ace-in-the-hole is veteran trainer and NFR barrel racer Martha Wright. Wright and her late husband, Ed, have been Murray’s mentors for years and Wright continues to ride and tune her horses for her, allowing her to focus on school.
“I’m very, very grateful for Martha. I’m not sure this would be possible without her,” Murray says.
When the end of April rolled in, Murray decided to hit a trio of good Texas rodeos, including the Ropin Dreams event. Though she didn’t know much about Ropin Dreams prior to the rodeo, she agreed it’s a great cause.
For her run, she decided to ride a young star in her barn, JL Fourtafame. She bought Munchie just over a year ago and made a few rodeo runs aboard the gelding last summer before sending him to Wright.
“He’s young and unseasoned so I didn’t want to overdo on him,” she says. “Mark Bugni trained him as well as Dan and he does a great job. He’s such a consistent trainer that it’s easy to ride behind him.”
Competing in his first rodeo performance, Munchie delivered a super fast 16.09 second run for the win at Jourdanton, running just over a tenth ahead of the rest of the field.
“I really had no expectations because I hadn’t run him in at least four months,” admits Murray, who is sponsored by Oxy-Gen and Myristol. “That was definitely the Martha tune in him.”
“I’m so fortunate to have them, Mark and Martha, who have taught me everything and helps me with everything. They make things easier for me.”
It was part of a big weekend for Murray as she placed fourth on the first run at Corpus Christi aboard Commander, then took fourth in the second round on Tic Tac to finish third in the average. Tic Tac also carried her to another rodeo win in Lufkin.
“It works well to ride Munchie after riding Tic Tac because he is the polar opposite of Commander,” Murray laughed. “He’s really ratey and I have to think about riding all the way to the rate point at each barrel.
“He’s very deceiving, how quick he turns. He sits so hard on his back end in the turns. You think you’ve got him past the barrel then all of a sudden he plants it. You can hit barrels on him because of that.”
In total, Murray earned more than $7,300 for the three rodeo run, set up in between college finals. She jumped to 17th in the newest WPRA World standings and third in the Texas Circuit. Once done with college courses, and a short internship, Murray plans to hit the road again in hopes of another Wrangler NFR about mid-June.
As for Jourdanton, she had high praise for the event.
“The ground was great,” she noted.
Ropin Dreams accepts kids from four to 18 years old and anyone can refer a child to the program. Donations are accepted through Amazon Smile as well as their own website.
For more info on Ropin Dreams and to learn how to donate, please visit them on-line at www.ropindreams.com.