For Tony Branquinho, rodeo is more than something that happens one weekend in Clovis in April. Rodeo is his life, and has been since before he was born.
“My mom was riding while she was pregnant with me,” he said. “I was on a horse when I was a baby and still had to be held on. We have pictures when I was 4 or 5 being led around on a horse. It’s in my DNA.”
Branquinho, 40, grew up on a ranch in Southern California that was a 30-minute car ride from Santa Maria. He and his siblings spent the majority of their time working cows with their dad. Days started at 5 a.m. and ended after dark.
“My grandpa couldn’t understand it. Why would us kids go out and work cows all day, come home, and go out and get on another group of horses and ride until after dark? It all comes back to my DNA, I guess.”
Branquinho has competed in rodeo events since he was a child, earning his first buckle at 8 years old. He continued to compete through high school, and competed for his junior college as well. After taking time off from school to help with the family farm, Branquinho returned to school at Fresno State, competing on the school’s rodeo team with his younger brother.
“We’re five years apart, so we never got to high school rodeo together. Being able to compete in roping with him in college was a good reason for me to go back to school. I wanted my degree, but this was incentive for me.”
Branquinho obtained his degree in liberal arts from Fresno State and decided to go into teaching. That is how he ended up with his first job as a rodeo coach: Cal Poly hired him in the fall 2006. He worked there for seven years. He then took some time off from coaching.
After about a year off, Branquinho decided that coaching was where he needed to be.
“I loved it too much to quit,” he smiled. “I love teaching kids and I love being around horses. That’s what I realized with that time off. I needed to get back into it.”
Branquinho spent the spring 2015 semester as an interim coach at Fresno State, and the school officially hired him in the fall 2015 semester.
Branquinho’s students vouched for his talents as coach.
Colton Campbell is the captain of the men’s rodeo team, and he says that the new coach’s influence was immediate.
“Having Tony around, we have scheduled practices and meetings and stuff. We’re not just out here screwing off anymore, we’re actually learning and improving and doing really well.”
Billie Holman, captain of the woman’s rodeo team, agreed with Campbell’s assessment of Branquinho as their coach.
“We have national standing,” commented Holman. “We’re placed in the state and doing really well. The team has really progressed with coach around. It’s great.”
Branquinho encourages a family environment with his team, allowing them to call him “Tony” instead of “Coach.” They have laid-back meetings and often laugh and joke with each other. Some of the rodeo team members even attempt to rope others. They are all very comfortable with each other, and Branquinho keeps the atmosphere one of friendship instead of competition.
“Even though our events are individual, these student athletes understand that we’re competing as a team,” Branquinho said. “It’s like in basketball. It’s not the name on the back of the jersey. It’s the name on the front.”
When he’s not coaching at Fresno State, Branquinho has four horses of his own, which he shares with his wife and his two daughters. He said that he pays for the animals, but his girls have commandeered them, using them to compete in the rodeo events that he enjoys himself. He enjoys anything that involves the outdoors, but says that the equestrian lifestyle is his lifestyle of choice.
“It’s in my DNA, and it’s not going anywhere.”