Karen Vold calls trick riding the desire of her heart. But the sport of daredevil skills and showmanship on horseback was even more than that […]
6 Over 60: Vicki Christensen O’Shieles
Written by: Lily Landreth< Back to Articles
Since day one, Vicki Christensen O’Shieles’s life has been immersed in rodeo, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. From growing up helping her family’s famous Christensen Brothers Rodeo produce professional rodeos around the West, to trick riding, rodeo queening, hosting radio and television shows, and founding the trophy buckle company Tres Rios Silver, Vicki’s life continues to honor and support the heritage she holds so dear.
“I had a horse before I ever had a bicycle. Bicycles weren’t very fun to ride on gravel roads,” says Vicki, who was born in 1954 and grew up on the Christensen Brothers Ranch located between Eugene and Roseburg, Oregon. “I can’t imagine my life without rodeo in it. I’ve been very blessed, and every generation will tell you this, but when I grew up in rodeo, we spent more time at the rodeo grounds and got together with the crew and people who came to rodeo. The rodeo family is truly remarkable.”
Vicki’s earliest memories are of riding her pony on her family’s ranch, home to CB Rodeo, which was founded in 1936 by Bob and Henry Christensen and their sister Babe. Eventually Vicki, her brother Bobby Jr., and Henry’s children became the third generation to work the family business. “My first job in rodeo was riding my pony Lucky and clearing the arena during the calf roping and bulldogging events. Whatever the task at hand was, be it feeding roughstock, running calves through, saddling parade and pickup horses, or carrying flags in the grand entry,” recalls Vicki, who also timed rodeos. “To be ranch raised is very special to me. Ranch life and rodeo life were different, and whether you were fixing fence or helping in the field to put up hay, you just did what you did. Growing up, I used to think every day was ordinary, but looking back on it now, those days were truly extraordinary.”
She went on to run for Miss Rodeo Oregon in 1973 and won the title. Vicki represented The Beaver State at the Miss Rodeo America pageant and was honored to win the prestigious horsemanship award during the competition. Her close friend Pam Minick won Miss Rodeo America. The following year, Vicki planned to start traveling the skies as a flight attendant for Hughes Air West until a phone call changed everything. California Rodeo Salinas, one of CB Rodeo’s longtime contracts, was short a trick rider for the upcoming rodeo. Vicki, who had watched trick riders at the rodeos for years and tinkered with it herself at home, told her dad she could do it. “I chose one of the pickup horses out of the string because they know how to brace and hold the weight from picking up cowboys after an eight second ride.” Vicki’s successful performance in Salinas opened the next gate in her life, and she and her cousin Sherri Christensen, also a trick rider, formed a trick riding group with Lyndy Erwin. “One trick rider that absolutely inspired me was Nancy Sheppard. She used to work a lot of rodeos in the Northwest and was a good friend of my mom’s. I looked forward to Ellensburg, where Karen and Harry Vold were always at, and Karen helped us girls and gave us pointers. But it was J.W. Stoker who taught me so much about showmanship and how to project from horseback. We were blessed to work many of the bigger rodeos throughout the Northwest, California, and even traveled to Texas for the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.”
Vicki put up her trick riding saddle and returned to working on her family’s ranch when her son Brett Tatum was born in 1978. When rodeo crews rolled in to make a stop at the ranch, Vicki cared for the horses and cooked. Unfortunately, her family lost their entire business in 1984 during the farm crisis. “It was a really sad time, but through sad endings come new beginnings.” Her sustaining comfort was that her faith and family endured, even as CB Rodeo came to a close. The opportunity arose for Vicki to move to New Mexico after the family ranches were sold, and she started working with KXTC Radio. “We did one of the very first rodeo radio reports and went live every day covering rodeo events through the Four Corners area and Navajo nation. That kept me tied into the life I loved of rodeo.”
Inspired by the enchanting geography of the Southwest and craftsmanship of the Navajo people, Vicki entered into the trophy buckle business, learning from Jim Custer in Wickenburg, Arizona, and Ralph Maynard in Thoreau, New Mexico. “I started making trophy buckles in 1994 and sold that business and went on to create Tres Rios Silver in 1997. That’s going on 22 years now, and it’s second-generation owned by my son Brett Tatum and his wife Keylie.” Vicki’s grandson, Pecos Tatum, is a tie-down roper, while Brett is a former PRCA bull rider and Keylie is a WPRA world champion heeler. “I’m married to a wonderful man, Bud O’Shieles, these last eight years, and he’s a lifetime vice president of Rodeo Houston,” says Vicki, who now makes her home in Weatherford, Texas.
She is as involved as ever in rodeo, both preserving her family’s history with the sport and the history of others. She was inducted into the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2019, and works with the World of Rodeo Reunion and Gold Card Gathering in Las Vegas each December during the WNFR. “It’s a chance to connect with people who are the foundation of the sport, and it’s loads of fun,” says Vicki, who worked side by side with her niece Becky Christensen Mapston to produce the show CB Cowgirls live on stage during the WNFR from 2013—2019. Currently, they host the YouTube show Come to the Table, where faith, food, and fellowship are still served up the cowboy way. Vicki is also working with Patricia Dawson from the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame, and renowned sculptor Edd Hayes, on a project highlighting CB Rodeo’s famous bronc War Paint. The current Ms. International Ambassador FoRe the American Cowboy, Vicki is compiling her memories of early trophy buckle business days. “Back when I was in the business, there were very few women heavily involved in it at that time. I had an excellent crew and some of the finest Navajo silversmiths in the world. It’s their story as much as mine—the people, and the girls I worked with in the office.
“A good friend of mine, Judy Wagner, said it’s called W.I.T. for ‘whatever it takes.’ I’ve pulled on that through whatever comes in my life. Whatever it takes, as a cowgirl, a mother, or a wife, we do what we do. It’s inspiring to see so many young women embracing the western lifestyle. It really makes my heart smile to see their enthusiasm and what they bring to the table. You never want someone to follow in your footsteps, but if you will leave a path and allow them, they will choose their own steps because of yours. I have learned from the remarkable cowgirls that have given so much that I might be blessed by their journey. I hope the tracks I leave behind might welcome another group of young women who love the western lifestyle.”