01coverUAC0071818001Just outside of Hope Mills, at 7 Branch Farm in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina, horses, cattle and people thrive on 37 acres of farmland. It’s a place steeped in the cowboy spirit: love for the land, adventure, gritty hard work and integrity. And, in 2014, it became the first venue in North Carolina to celebrate National Day of the Cowboy.

The late Wyoming U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas first sponsored National Day of the Cowboy in 2005 as a way to celebrate cowboys’ and cowgirls’ contribution to America’s culture and heritage. Since then, celebratory rodeos have taken place across the nation every fourth Saturday in July.

Enjoy 7 Branch’s fifth National Day of the Cowboy rodeo Friday or Saturday evening, July 27 or 28, or Sunday afternoon, July 29.

Buddy Blackman, general manager of 7 Branch, said he expects a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people at each show, with Saturday likely being a standing-room only event.

“It’s to remember our heritage,” he said. “You don’t see a whole lot of cowboys walking around nowadays. This is keeping the spirit of the Old West alive.”

Blackman is the son of Ron Payne, who started the farm nine years ago with only eight acres of land and a dream to build a horse farm. Today, with the help of his children, it’s grown to 37 acres and hosts several training and rodeo events each year.

The National Day of the Cowboy rodeo includes traditional favorites like barrel racing, team roping, cowboy mounted shooting, and, of course, bull riding. Throughout each rodeo, Blackman said, there will be a total of about 50 cowboys and cowgirls competing for special belt buckles — a mark of honor — and prize money. This includes 20 bull riders.

There will also be fun, modern parts of the show. Cowpaty the Rodeo Clown will perform, a professional who’s been at work since age 11, along with the Carolina Stars Trick Riders. Carolina Stars is a duo comprised of former Dixie Stampede performers Leslie Reed and Lori Graham. They’ll perform death-defying stunts on Leslie’s new Palomino Quarter horse and Lori’s Appaloosa mare.

The audience will be engaged throughout the show, but Blackman is bringing back one activity that invites direct audience participation (and squeals): Bull Bowling. He first introduced the popular rodeo activity last year, and it was a hit.

Audience members are invited to enter the arena and stand in white circles drawn in the dirt in a bowling pin formation as a Brahman bull is released into the space. Last man standing is the winner.

“Some people have a theory that by standing completely still, the bull won’t charge at them,” Blackman said. “Sometimes it’s true; last year, the bull ran by several people to go after the people who took off running.” Blackman said it’s an event that gets the adrenaline pumping while remaining relatively safe. “We have professional bull fighters out there to control things,” he said. “We’re not going to let a bull get someone down.”

Overall, Blackman said, the three-hour rodeo event is fast-paced and action-packed.

Friday and Saturday night, gates open at 5 p.m. and the rodeo starts at 8 p.m. Blackman recommends arriving early, as the lines will be long around 7 p.m. There will be food vendors, information and plenty to see and do as visitors wait for the rodeo to start once they’ve entered, Blackman said. Sunday’s rodeo kicks off at 2 p.m.

Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at www.Dayofthecowboync.com. Cape Fear Valley’s Friends of the Cancer Center will benefit in part from ticket sales. You can get free tickets a couple of different ways, though. Camping World of Fayetteville, the event’s title sponsor, is giving free tickets to visitors who come do a walkthrough. Camping World is located at 5117 US Hwy 301 S in Hope Mills. WKML 95.7 is also offering listeners a chance to call in and claim free tickets in the weeks leading up to the event.

Visit www.7brancharena.com to learn more about the farm, and click “Calendar” for a list of smaller, more training-focused events throughout the year.

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