It only took Ryder Volf 10 years of living to get a standing ovation.
Volf, a fifth-grader at Gilbert Elementary School, brought the crowd to its feet at Lone Star Arena when he teamed with 31-year-old Ben Gambrell of Huckabay to win the Friday, Sept. 28, round in the Erath County Team Roping competition.
The county team roping event is held each year in tandem with the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo. Volf and Gambrell were among the top 15 roping teams (headers and heelers) from among 167 that competed the previous weekend in the qualifying round of the county roping event to advance.
The headers and heelers drew to determine their partners for the county team roping, and a champion was declared for each of the three performances - Friday through Sunday - last weekend.
Volf was the header and the highly experienced Gambrell was the heeler, and they posted a time of 9.1 seconds. That was the quickest time on Friday night, and they each earned $1,000, a belt buckle and an X-Treme Team Roping saddle donated by rodeo producer and announcer Ben Clements.
Rodeo secretary Delia Walls was in the office at the Lone Star Arena Friday night and came out when she heard the crowd’s reaction.
“I heard this big roar and I came out and saw Ryder with a smile on his face that an undertaker couldn’t have taken off,” Walls said. “It was a great moment, it really was.”
Later that night, Ryder told his parents, Gabe and Jody Volf, about a special scene from one of his favorite movies, “Wonder.” A key character in that movie, also a 10-year-old boy, had a memorable line that stuck with Ryder.
“He quoted from the movie that ‘Everyone deserves a standing ovation once in their life,” Jody Volf said. “He (Ryder) gets it.”
Clements explained that the county team roping involves all ages and all skill sets.
“Ryder is a young up-and-coming roper, proving to be very proficient,” Clements said. “That was an extremely great run for a kid that age.”
Gambrell has a No. 9 rating as a heeler, while Ryder has a 2 rating as a header. Gambrell was the American Buckskin Registry Association Reserve World Champion in Senior Heeling, and was a 2018 qualifier in the American Quarter Horse Association Show Qualifier. Jody Volf said that Gambrell plans to join the PRCA circuit next year as a rookie.
Ryder’s mom said she felt emotional after the win.
“I, of course, had tears of joy for sure,” she said. “I’m a very proud parent. He’s humble, but I know he’s very proud. He paid for the entry fee with his own money. I really thought we had lost our minds.”
Ryder isn’t the first young boy to do well in the Erath County Team Roping event over the years, but he seems to be following in the footsteps of Stephenville’s Marty Yates and others.
“I was afraid I was going to miss,” Ryder said of his thoughts just before Friday’s competition. “I thought it went well. I felt happy and glad and excited.”
He said he didn’t really get to have a conversation with Gambrell before their winning run, but Ryder received a “welcome to the club” fist bump and pat on the back from him.
“I didn’t know him until the qualifying (the weekend before),” said Ryder, who started riding horses at age 2, and began trying to learn how to rope when he was 8. “We talked a lot after we were done. He said, ‘Good job.’ He patted me on the back, and we did knuckles.”
Ryder’s horse, Clyde, is 20 years old.
“I felt proud, and how good my horse did,” said Ryder, who stands 4 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 80 pounds. “I started out with a different horse. Clyde is faster and younger. I practice almost every day.”
Next, Ryder plans to compete in the U.S. Team Roping Finals in Oklahoma City.