LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Though tarmac replaces trails, and people now haul their horses across the state, Texas rodeos are still a popular Saturday night destination.
Every weekend brings a new rodeo to a different town, from Fort Worth to Rio Grande City, which also means contestants have to travel.
This life on the road is steadily gaining momentum within military circles, said Lackland's Devin Fisher, an Airman by day, roper by night.
On base, Fisher wears a flight suit as an instructor at Lackland's six-week, flight school preparatory course. In the ring, he wears a different uniform, as a first-year member of the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association.
"It's getting bigger - military-wise it's really starting to grow," he said about the decade-old military association. "That's what we are trying to do, get it large enough to be like the National Finals Rodeo."
Every weekend, Fisher picks a town on the Red River circuit hosting a PAFRA-sanctioned event.
"It's addicting," he said. "It's like softball. It's like, OK, I had a good weekend, so where's the next tournament."
In pursuit, the Fisher family tosses sleeping bags in the truck, loads the horses in the trailer and sets out from their 12-acre lot in La Coste.
Sometimes they head to Gonzalez or maybe Floresville.
"The biggest decision (in Texas) is how far you want to go," Fisher said. "Every Saturday night, I rope in Devine. It's just a matter of where you want to go."
Fisher's specialty is team roping, a timed event where pairs of riders try to lasso a steer within 5-10 seconds.
Specifically, he's a heeler or the roper responsible for lassoing the hind legs from atop a galloping horse. But, he's also not shy about taking the lead position as a header.
In 2010, Fisher qualified for the PAFRA World Finals in both roping positions while earning rookie of the year as a header.
But it's not his first rodeo.
Fisher said roping takes lots of practice and the ability to ride a horse, a skill he learned growing up on a farm in New York.
He learned to rope while riding with a two-time World Finals champion, Travis Beck, on the Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., rodeo team.
Then, the two friends would go to Montana to find the seconds-long thrill.
"We used to drive eight hours," he said. "And you think, just to do an eight-second ride. Just to rodeo."
On Nov. 20, the pair teamed up again at the World Finals. Fisher finished ninth overall in heeling and 11th in heading. Beck, along with winning the event's men's all around award, took 10th in heading and heeling.
Though Fisher admits he can't turn away from the "train wreck" that is bull riding, the roping events are safe by comparison.
As if to prove the point, Fisher recently fractured his ankle - playing Frisbee.
"I've never broken a bone team roping," he said. "You'll see a lot of guys lose fingers; calf ropers coming off the horse go to tie a calf and blow their knees out."
Yet, more than the danger associated with the sport or the hope of winning trucks, trailers and prize money, it's the atmosphere that calls Fisher back to the ring.
It's the rocking music, home-raised beef and good-natured company that have him wondering each weekend "where to next?"
"It's just the camaraderie," Fisher said. "We have a good time. It's a very family-oriented environment."
Now stationed at a base where rodeos are never too far off, he sees a great opportunity for military riders.
"Especially in Bulverde - they're very pro-military," he said. "They make sure everyone knows I'm from Lackland and everyone starts screaming."
For more information about the PAFRA, visit their website at www.pafra2000.com