By Laura Latzko, Feb. 12, 2015.
For some cowboys, rodeo isn’t just a hobby – it’s a way of life.
These cowboys spend their time training their horses, honing their craft and traveling the distance necessary to prepare for each competition.
One such cowboy, David Lawson of Santa Rosa, Calif., balances this lifestyle with his responsibilities as a junior high and high school teacher.
“It’s my job. It’s my hobby. It’s my passion. [It’s] my social circle. It’s kind of all-consuming,” Lawson said of his rodeo affiliation.
Lawson is also the rodeo partner of Arizona-based competitor Greg Begay, and the duo’s geographic separation makes their two-year partnership unique.
“Greg and I just complement each other so well because my strength is in the timed events [and] his strength is in the roping events,” Lawson said, “so we can kind of feed off from each other.”
Begay and Lawson met more than two years ago at a rodeo in Palm Springs and first did a roping event together in the San Francisco gay rodeo later that year. After winning their first team roping event they went on to develop one of the strongest partnerships on the international gay rodeo circuit.
“We are best friends,” Begay said. “It’s sort of like a ‘finish-each-other’s-sentences’ kind of deal. We already click to where we know what the other person is thinking.”
Begay and Lawson won all-around and reserve, or second place, honors at the World Rodeo Finals in Fort Worth last October. The all-around award goes to the men and women who score the most points in all events during the rodeo.
“We just try to help each other win as much as possible,” Begay said, who has participated in rodeos since childhood and gay rodeos since 2009.
Both men compete in a total of nine events-three roping, three speed and three camp events.
Begay, who currently participates in both gay and pro rodeos, said he’s had hundreds of different rodeo partners, but Lawson, who he considers his best friend and pseudo older brother, has been his longest-running partner.
In past years, the pair has competed in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Francisco, Denver and Santa Fe rodeos. And, to prepare, Begay flies to the Bay Area regularly to practice with Lawson.
For the Arizona Gay Rodeo, Lawson will drive more than 12 hours with his five-horse trailer, because he prefers to compete with horses he’s trained so he’s familiar with their strengths and weaknesses
“I’m pretty good at catching riding horses, but it’s not the same as having your equine partner,” Lawson said, adding that his love of horses began at an early age.
Begay usually rides Lawson’s stallion, Never Hit Seventeen, who will make the road trip with him. However, Lawson won’t have Maverick, the quarter horse he is most partial to and has had for 12 years, with him this year. Instead, he’ll bring Pay Czech, a horse in training.
Growing up in Iowa, Lawson started riding in 7th grade and worked odd jobs to help pay for his first horse. While he went on to train horses and teach barrel racing, he was nearly 30 years old before he heard of, and competed in, the gay rodeo circuit
According to Lawson, it’s the environment of gay rodeos that made him want to get involved initially and has also kept him competing in the IGRA circuit.
“It’s the gay camaraderie,” he said. “There aren’t many opportunities to combine the gay lifestyle with the Western lifestyle, so it’s perfect for me. You’re not going to go to pro rodeo and kiss your partner while you’re walking up the alleyway. At the gay rodeo, you have a great run, and you can come out and kiss your partner.”
In addition to competing in this year’s rodeo, Lawson will teach a barrel-racing clinic at the rodeo school for the first time. The one-day sessions, he said, will focus on specific areas riders can improve the most.
“Rather than having several things to fix, maybe I’ll just find a couple of things that would make a huge difference for someone and try to fix those in the short lesson,” Lawson said.
But when he’s not teaching or competing, Lawson said the Arizona Gay Rodeo provides him with an annual opportunity to reconnect with rodeo friends.
“You miss seeing everybody,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that go to the rodeo [and] that’s the only time I see them.”