The concept of family is a simple one — a group of individuals sharing a legal or genetic bond. But for families in the rodeo world, that bond is carried beyond a genetic or legal one. For them, family means anyone in chaps who has ever ridden a horse or roped a horse. The rodeo community family is a large one and gets passed down through the generations.
Take the Holyan family of Coyote Canyon, New Mexico: Father Ed is an eight-time Indian National Finals Rodeo world champion tie-down rope, and Mother Carole is a world champion ladies barrel racer, as well as the only female INFR commissioner (whose father, Dean, was a founding member and one of the first original commissioners of the INFR organization). Their 12-year-old son Dean, who started roping at age 5, is the 2013 Junior Breakaway champion, while 14-year-old daughter Faith made her first INFR adult division appearance at age 10. And let’s not forget niece Kassidy Dennison who is making her own mark in barrel racing, supported by her mom, Debbie (Carole’s sister) and dad Karl, another world champion
“Indian rodeo is very much a family-oriented event,” says INFR General Manager Donna Hoyt, noting that in some events there are families where three or four generations might be competing.
“It’s just something we do,” says Carole Holyan. “In Native cultures, animals are part of the lifestyle. Growing up, my dad had horses and competed in rodeo, and because it was something he did, it was something we did. On the Navajo Nation, rodeo is huge, a way of life for a lot of people.”
When the Public Broadcasting System in Wyoming presented a feature story on Indian rodeo, they said: “Present-day Indian culture encompasses many things including rodeo, which for 40 years has been a professional sport and a nationwide tribal subculture passed from one generation to the next.” Song lyrics from the disco era are appropriate here — “We Are Family.”
Ed Hoylan is “an All-Around Championship Cowboy considered by many to be the most talented and versatile cowboy in the world,” his INFR bio says. Over the last decade or so, Holyan has been a dominant competitor in four All-Around championships as well as titles for steer wrestling and calf roping.
“A good horse, some finesse, and a ‘no fear’ attitude have helped me reach those pinnacles,” he says. Holyan credits God and the support of his whole family in making possible his arena accolades and that encouragement is evident with wife Carole frequently found near the roping box during tie-down competition.
While those are big shoes to fill, his partner in life as well as in the arena, is no stranger to Indian pro rodeo honors. Carole Holyan’s career includes three titles in INFR barrel racing, including her first win in the late 1970s at age 11. She’s also a two-time INFR Women’s All-Around champion and Ladies Breakaway Champion.
Although she no longer competes, there is still a family rivalry about gold buckles.
“Ed gives me a hard time sometimes because I haven’t caught up with him yet,” she says. “Rodeo represents a really large extended family, just something we do and the way we raise our children. Rodeo teaches our youngsters a lot about life; from learning necessary skills to compete to the care and feeding of animals — all in the company of family and friends.”
The Holyan family and other inter-generational Native American rodeo families will be on hand to help the largest and longest-running professional Indian rodeo organization in the world “promote and preserve the advancement of professional Indian rodeo” at this year’s INFR championships, November 4-8, in Las Vegas.