12 Cover StoryThe Wild West. Dusty trails. Cattle drives. Campfires. Cowboys. It was a simpler time, when grit and hard work were the measure of a man and his word was his bond.

It still exists, this world of quiet bravado and carefree charm. In fact, 7 Branch Farm spends an entire day celebrating it. Celebrate National Day of the Cowboy at a rodeo on July 28 and 29 at 7 Branch Farm in Lumber Bridge.

This is the 4th Annual National Day of the Cowboy at 7 Branch, and it looks to be a winner for participants and audiences alike. National Day of the Cowboy celebrates the spirit of the west and the ruggedness and independence that made cowboys the icons we know and love. It celebrates the code that governed the Wild West.

While cowboys only get one official day of recognition, at 7 Branch Farm, the cowboy spirit is obvious every day. Ron Payne bought eight acres of land nine years ago. His intent was to turn it into a horse farm. With the help of his children, Payne did just that and
so much more. Today, the farm boasts 37 acres and is home to several rodeo events each year.

“I was involved in professional team roping and qualified for the National Finals of Team Roping three times,” said Buddy Blackman, general manager of  7 Branch Farm. Blackman’s experience at rodeos helped shape the way the horse farm grew. “We decided to put in an arena at our farm,” he said. “It eventually grew into a full-size competition arena with bleachers and a 1,800-square-foot arena and building, including a lit parking area and water stations for competitors. We held our first official competition in 2012 and our first rodeo in 2014. We were the first venue in North Carolina to hold a National Day of the Cowboy Rodeo.” 

Growing up steeped in the rodeo and equine culture, it was no surprise when Blackman started competing in rodeos.  His family owned horses, and he rode them as a child. By the time he was 18, he was riding bucking bulls and horses in professional rodeos. He was good at it, and he loved the excitement it added to his life. He got to have adventures and see different parts of the country.

“Participating in rodeos is adventurous; it allowed me to travel from state to state,” Blackman said.

Eventually, he was ready for a new kind of thrill and started hosting rodeos. It turns out that hosting rodeos is also fun for Blackman. “Hosting and producing a rodeo is a lot of hard work. It includes planning and coordinating with others to produce a wonderful event,” he said. The legwork can be exhausting, but when the rodeo starts, it is all worth it, he said. “The best part is when we finally get to the opening ceremony, and the rodeo is underway.”

But there are other things he loves about putting on a rodeo, too. “There are many favorites,” he said. “The big crowd, watching the bull riders and the cowboy mounted shooting. (They shoot) .45 caliber pistols at balloon targets on a predesigned pattern. The wild bull riding is always the main attraction — a 2,000+ pound bull versus a 150-pound rider.”

Whether this is old hat or a new experience, the events are lively and fast-paced and are sure to keep the crowds entertained. The lineup includes rodeo standards like barrel racing, team roping, cowboy mounted shooting, bull riding and trick riding.

There is a new event this year, too. “We are having a bull pinball competition,” Blackman said. “Five or six guys are in the arena in a 10-foot diamond or circle. We let a bull out and the last guy left in the ring wins.” It’s something he’s been meaning to add, he said, and this just seemed like the right time.

Blackman expects a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people and suggests coming early. Gates open at 5 p.m. “We will have several vendors of food, information and plenty of activities to see and do,” he said. “The show starts at 8 p.m. Based on previous events, there is always a long line at the ticket window at 8 p.m.” 

There was no law in the Wild West, so cowboys had to make up their own code of conduct. It wasn't legally binding but more of a code of honor.

7 Branch hosts several events throughout the year, but the National Day of the Cowboy Rodeo is a special one for Blackman because this event is not only a great time, it is also a fundraiser for two charities. Cape Fear Valley’s Friends of the Cancer Center is the main charity. The Lumber Bridge Fire Department also benefits.

“We hope to raise enough money to make a difference so that both organizations get a good donation,” Blackman said.

Tickets are available at www.dayofthecowboy. wordpress.com. Find out more about 7 Branch by searching its name on Facebook.

PHOTO: Buddy Blackman

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