Keith and Ileah Roquemore, with daughters Raci and Riata and horse D.H., Mendocino County Fair Rodeo. Boonville, Mendocino County.
Ileah Roquemore says that when she met professional bull rider Keith Roquemore all he owned was a pair of pants and a bag holding his rodeo rigging. Ten years later, they are married and have two daughters, a house, and a dog.
But it’s a restless domesticity. Keith spends half the year on the bull-riding circuit, sometimes living in his camper truck for a month at a time. During the week, Ileah runs the café she owns in Cottonwood; on weekends she takes the girls on the local rodeo circuit, where she competes as a barrel racer. During those precious times when their rodeos match up and the family travels together, it is bare bones: all four sleep in the camper, or in a tent; they haul water for the horses. While Keith and Ileah compete, friends on the circuit babysit the girls.
Keith says bull riding is really a single man’s sport, that it’s much easier to be a nomad when you don’t have a home and a family. “It’s always there in the back of my mind knowing, hey, if I got hurt what am I going to do? I’ve got these three always there that need me, no matter what. So it’s tough sometimes. Sometimes a guy just wants to give up.”
What makes it work is that Ileah understands his passion firsthand—she feels the draw to rodeo herself, and so is able to support Keith in a unique way. Perhaps that’s why in terms of danger, it’s not the bull riding that concerns her. “I am so much more worried about him driving 80 miles an hour at four in the morning, getting to the next bull riding, than I ever am with him on a bull,” she says. “That’s the most scary thing. That eight seconds is tough but I know he’s so quick and fast that I’m always really confident with him in his bull riding. But you just never know in the car.”
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