When Roxana Rico isn’t making her rounds at Continental Elementary School, the district’s superintendent can be found on a horse, roping cattle.
Rico has been around horses and roping since she was nine. She reached a milestone in December when she qualified for the World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas — a top tier competition promising thousands of dollars in prizes.
“It actually started five years ago when my dad and I were sitting at the World Series watching my brothers, who have qualified for years, and I said, ‘Dad, we could do this.’ He said, ‘I know we can, and you can for sure,’” she said. “Then I got it stuck in my head that I was going to qualify for Vegas and cross that off my bucket list. So, I did.”
A family tradition
Rodeo is a rich tradition in Rico’s family. Almost all of her family members participate in riding and roping events.
It all started with her father, Johnny Rico.
“My dad used to be a professional boxer and he ended up having open heart surgery at 28 years old,” she said. “When his boxing career ended, that's when he started roping, and so he comes from a competitive family. He started us with the horses and roping.”
Rico and her two brothers are heelers, the person in team roping who ropes the steer’s hind legs, and their father often headed, or roped the horns, for them during junior rodeos.
Her younger brother occasionally heads for her now, and the siblings are often sharing their latest roping photos with one another or calling for updates.
While she was at home in the saddle, Rico wasn’t eyeing a career in rodeo, especially as she headed to college.
“I would argue with my dad and say, 'I'm not going to grow up to be a professional cowgirl; I'm not bringing my horses with me to college,'” she said. “It’s so funny. I've always said, even in high school, I was a closet cowgirl. It was not cool to be a cowgirl…like, how was I going to get a date to the prom when I was jumping off horses and tying goats and stuff in rodeos?”
She still remembers taking her college entrance exam right before heading to another rodeo.
“I was a cheerleader in middle and high school, and the day I took the ACT test my parents were in the camper trailer with the horses in the Sunnyside parking lot, waiting for me to finish my test so we could go to a rodeo,” she said.
Rico ended up marrying someone she’d known since childhood who was also a team roper. They had three children, all of whom ride horses but never had the interest in learning to rope.
“Once I got divorced and the kids were grown, I was like, 'What am I going to do with my life?” she said. “I’m going to get a horse that I don't have to share with my brothers. So, I started roping again about five years ago when I got my horse.”
Her horse, "Rio," is 12 years old and was well-trained by his previous owners, who live in Rio Rico.
Rico’s husband Greg Beaucage also ropes and has qualified for the World Series of Team Roping in Vegas several times. They hope to qualify together for the next one.
Headed for Vegas
Last year, Rico qualified with her roping partner Steve Vizzerra. She met him in Prescott at the end of the year, even though he’s from Sahuarita.
Rico said the pair of them spent a lot of time preparing by visiting arenas to rope live cattle, participating in local jackpots and working with the sled, which is a fake steer pulled by a four-wheeler.
“That really helps (you) focus on your positioning, timing, getting your swing right and throwing that perfect loop every time. We did a lot of work with the machine,” she said. “I was riding two or three weeks before Vegas, racing after work to get to riding and the weekends…riding every day.”
“It's a year-long thing and in our minds (that) every time we rope and ride, we are preparing for Vegas,” she said. “You can't really grind at the last minute; it’s an ongoing thing to be ready.”
It’s a matter of riding, roping and practicing as much as possible.
“My brother always says we know how to rope," she said. "Our horses know what they are doing. It's just a matter of it all coming together, the stars aligning.”
One of the best parts of the competition for her, was that almost all her family was there too, including her mom and dad.
“My dad, he was super ill last year,” she said. “We battled with his health issues, and I was just praying, 'Dear Lord, I just want my dad to be able to see us rope in Vegas, get him healthy enough to go.'”
Her nephew Oscar Gallegos also qualified and competed for the first time in December.
Ready for more
Rico didn’t place in the series, but said it was an amazing experience, and she’s ready to return to Vegas.
“It was a great time,” she said. “So, now I'm going to work harder and actually place and win some money there next year.”
For her, riding horses and roping will always be the perfect way to find some peace and relaxation.
“I really think it's a really good stress reliever for me, a way to take you away from everything else because you can't look at your phone or be worried about other things on a horse,” she said. “It helps keep that balance of work and fun and family time.”
Rico jokes she will never retire from her superintendent job because “roping is an expensive hobby and lifestyle.”
But, one day when she does, she dreams of starting an equine therapy program in the area.