story by Michele Toberer Dale Davies has been blessed to live a life centered around horses and rodeo. Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado as […]
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Meet the Member Leigh Ann Billingsley
story by Lily Weinacht
Leigh Ann Billingsley, a member of the GCPRA for more than 25 years, is returning to the 2015 GCPRA finals in the breakaway roping and incentive barrel racing. The 47-year-old wife and mother of two is the third generation of her family to compete in rodeo – and promote the sport and Western life in Hollywood.
Born in Texas and now making her home with her family near Phoenix, Ariz., Leigh Ann was raised on rodeo, travelling across the West with her parents, Chuck and Nancy Henson, and sister, Nancy Jane. Chuck was a rodeo clown and bullfighter who travelled year round, but the two sisters travelled with him during the summer. “As soon as school was out, Dad would come by with his truck and trailer that he kept his mule and dog in and we’d take off for the summer and go to rodeos,” says Leigh Ann. “Mom had a job in Tucson, but she’d take a week vacation and meet us in Salt Lake City and secretary the rodeo. Some of my best memories are of travelling with Dad. We’d stay for the whole rodeo wherever we went and play with the stock contractor’s kids.”
Leigh Ann started competing in rodeo when she was ten, and she and Nancy Jane junior rodeoed before competing in high school. “We didn’t have an arena, so we tied goats and ran barrels and poles in the pasture,” Leigh Ann explains. “We’d breakaway rope at friends’ houses. The first roping clinic I went to was with Joe and Clay Parsons when I was 12. I’ve had a lot of help over the years from calf ropers. I’ve always looked up to my parents and both my grandparents, and I also want to thank my sponsor, Revolution Ropes.” Leigh Ann filled her permit with the WPRA when she was 18 and college rodeoed for Central Arizona College and University of Arizona, the same college her dad rodeoed for in the 1960s. She met her husband, Eric Billingsley, during a college rodeo and they were married several years later. Eric rode saddle broncs on the Turquoise Circuit and Prairie Circuit, qualifying for both circuits’ finals, as well as winning year-end champion in the GCPRA before retiring from the event.
While Leigh Ann continues to breakaway, team rope, and run barrels, breakaway has remained her favorite event over the years. A gold card member, she won the WPRA World Championship in breakaway and the all-around in 2006. She also won the event twice in the NSPRA and GCPRA, along with several all-around and barrel racing titles in the GCPRA. She competed in her last Turquoise Circuit Finals in 2001, but she anticipates competing in more pro rodeos once her daughters are older. She and Eric, a farrier, spend much of their time coaching their daughters, Kaylee (17), and Rayna (12), in their roping and barrel racing. Both girls compete in the GCPRA and team rope with Eric. Rayna is barrel racing in her first GCPRA finals this year, while Kaylee was just out of qualifying for the finals in the breakaway.
In addition to youth rodeos, Leigh Ann schedules her own rodeoing around her work as a wrangler, driver, and stuntwoman. Her dad, grandmother, and great aunt and uncles, all worked in television and movies, and Leigh Ann has done the same, starting her first job when she was 18. “My first job was driving a 15 passenger van, and then I started wrangling as a chicken wrangler,” says Leigh Ann. “They were my grandma’s chickens, and we even used her dog, Levi, in the movie Roosters.” Her dad’s mule, Nicodemus, also appeared in several movies. Leigh Ann mainly wrangles horses these days, and she continues to do stunts, drive actors to location, and help around the set. “Tombstone was one of my favorite movies to work on,” says Leigh Ann. “I got to do some doubling for Dana Delaney riding side saddle. I’ve also gotten to drive Cuba Gooding Jr., and I drove Russell Crowe during filming for The Quick and the Dead.” Leigh Ann’s dad, Chuck, also continues to drive on occasion. “A short day is 14 hours, so you can’t really do anything else when you’re working,” Leigh Ann explains.
Eric, Kaylee, and Rayna, help keep Leigh Ann’s two horses, Ace, and Jigs, legged up, and when she’s finished with her latest job, the family uses their vacation time to rodeo. “I’d like to make the GCPRA and Senior Pro finals again next year, and if my horse stays sound, I’d like to make the Turquoise Circuit finals,” says Leigh Ann. More than anything, her goal is to help her daughters pursue their own rodeo careers as they carry on the sport that has been in the family for nearly a century.