MD Eastern Shore cowboy is youth rodeo world champion

Rodeo3WBy Pete Pichaske

When they announced the winner in tie-down roping at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championship in Oklahoma City last August, some rodeo folks surely were scratching their heads.

Spencer Bramble, of Maryland?

Any confusion is understandable. Maryland has produced its share of exceptional football and basketball players, lacrosse players and gymnasts. But it's never been known as a hotbed for cowboys.

And nobody knows that better than the roping champion himself, Spencer Bramble, an unassuming senior at Queen Anne's County High School, and those who know him best.

"He is a rare breed in this part of the country," says his father, David Bramble. "Everything else around here is football, baseball, soccer. ... He's accomplished a lot from being where we're located."

"People out here are not used to one of them Yankee boys winning," says Gary Wells, a professional horseman who lives in Oklahoma and has trained Spencer for four or five years. Spencer's championship, he adds, "surprised some of them, I imagine. But it didn't surprise me."

Says Spencer himself: "I must have been an odd duck when I was little, I guess. I don't know what it is. ... I'm the only one that rodeos in Queen Anne's."

That's not to say Spencer hasn't worked hard to get where he is. If practice makes perfect, he deserves to be the rodeo champion he is.

The only child of David and Clara Bramble, Spencer grew up and still lives on the 330-acre Quail Covey Farm on Starr Road, which has been in his father's family since 1941.

While neither of his parents ropes or rodeos, both have owned and shown horses. Spencer himself started showing horses when he was barely able to walk. By age 3 or 4 he was riding, and a decade later he took the leap to roping.

"I had a trainer up in Pennsylvania and his two boys rodeoed and roped," Spencer recalls. "I'd go up there and I'd be riding horses with them, and after my lessons got done, they'd set up the arena and we'd stay and watch. I was kind of just standing there one day, and I was like, 'That's pretty neat.' So they started teaching me."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

 

No horsing around for Bramble

While other boys his age were tossing footballs or baseballs, Spencer was in his barn roping his roping dummy, essentially a headless, legless wooden calf used to practice roping. Hour after hour.

"I used to have to call him from the back door to tell him to come in and go to bed," Clara Bramble recalls. "When he was little, he'd be waiting for the school bus to come, he'd have the dummy out in the driveway, and he'd be roping the dummy while waiting. ... He took his rope to school once or twice."

"They told me I couldn't bring it back after I started to rope other kids," Spencer says.

These days, Spencer sticks to roping his dummy and live calves, but he's no less obsessed. He practices three or four times a week, when the weather allows, for two or three hours at a time.

"He's a little bit anal," his mother says. "He's a perfectionist."

Besides his roping dummy, he has a dummy calf, a chunk of wood with movable sticks for legs that he uses to practice hog tying. Watching him practice, his hands become a blur; even the casual observer is impressed.

Spencer, his horses and his parents travel to a dozen or more competitions and rodeo events a year. Now that he's older, Spencer sometimes takes the trips on his own, but often, his parents go with him. Last summer, for example, they all went to Oklahoma for the quarter horse championships.

"It's sort of our family hobby," Clara says of the family's travels. "He'll do things, and that's our family vacation."

Wells, who has ridden and trained horses and ropers for decades, says Spencer's success is a result of his dedication and hard work. "Not many work at it like he does," he says. "He's still got a ways to go before he could be a top pro, but as far as the youths, he's really good."


Roping the world championship

Over the years, Spencer has won numerous awards. He won back-to-back state championships at the annual Pennsylvania High School Rodeo, for example, where he was allowed to compete because Maryland had no high school rodeo association. (The state started one last year). But his greatest coup as a roper came last August at the American Quarter Horse Youth Association World Championship.

Competing against two dozen other qualifying teenagers from across the country, Spencer and his horse Pure Blue Boon took first place in tie-down roping, which involves chasing a calf out of a chute, roping it, then leaping off the horse to hog-tie the calf. He also took second place in the event on another of his horses, Lynx. Contestants are allowed to compete on up to three different horses.

The event has a time limit, but winners are picked based on how they adhere to a set of technical criteria, such as how quietly the horse waits for the calf to be released.

In honor of the achievements, the Maryland Horse Industry Board in November gave Spencer its "Touch of Class Award," given monthly to Maryland horses and people who have won national or international recognition.

"Spencer represents the next generation of equine professionals who will continue Maryland's heritage of outstanding horsemanship," state Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said at the awards ceremony. "We are pleased to recognize a young man who has already achieved so much in his sport."

A future in rodeo?

How much more Spencer achieves is up in the air. He plans to continue his rodeo career in college. He has been accepted at Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University, both of which have rodeo teams. While he hasn't decided on a school, OSU has been his top choice, according to his mother, and he's been offered an academic scholarship there.

But Spencer has ruled out going pro. Instead, he wants to be a veterinarian and stay involved in the sport by training horses.

"I kind of want to get an education and have a job, and be able to support (rodeo) as a hobby," he explains. "I'd like to see one of my horses make it in the National Finals Rodeo (the Super Bowl of rodeo events)."

These days, Spencer has scant time for anything other than horses and rodeo. He maintains an A-minus average at Queen Anne's County High and he has a girlfriend — 18-year-old Cheyenne Jones, a fellow rodeo roper from Pennsylvania whom he met, perhaps needless to say, at a roping competition.

But other than that? "A little bit of hunting," he says. "That's about it."
Not that he's complaining. Spencer has been more than happy to spend his free time at rodeo.

"There's an enjoyment to it," he says, grasping for words to describe his passion for the sport. "I don't know how to explain it. There's a competitive drive behind it. ... It's not bland or boring. ... It's something that's exciting."