Ray Woods was just six years old in 1964 when he jumped on his first calf while at a branding at a local ranch. At nine he rode his first steer at a Riske Creek rodeo and by 15 he got on his first bull, Mighty Mouse, at the Williams Lake High School Rodeo in 1973.
Woods would go on to compete in bull riding for 26 years, winning buckles in several rodeo associations.
“I just did it for fun. I didn’t think I could do it professionally until I was past my prime,” said Woods, looking back. “I loved the challenge, riding against the beast and your best friends. I probably rode bulls too long but I loved it. I still miss it.”
Woods was born in 1958 to Grace Couthard and Gordon Woods. He has three older sisters; Eileen, Connie and Sharon, and one younger sister, Marilyn, who died in a car accident in 1991. He also has several other siblings who are “steps and halves” and is an uncle seven girls and three boys, and another “32 if you count all the steps and halves.”
Woods said Jack Palmantier was his idle growing up.
“He did it all – an all-round cowboy.”
His father Gordon competed in team roping and calf roping and took the family to all the rodeos. A musical man, he also taught all his kids enough music that the family performed at rodeo dances.
“I love rodeo. I was born and raised with it,” he said. “I spent most of my life dancing and riding bulls.”
Woods won in bull riding in 1986, 1987 and 1988 in the Chilcotin Rodeo Association. He also won in the Northern Rodeo Association.
He recalls his favourite times were riding in front of the crowds at the Williams Lake Stampede back when you could ride against the pros.
“I could have won it one year, but 7.8 seconds isn’t enough.”
A framed action shot of Ray Woods hangs on the wall at Oliver Street Bar and Grill in Williams Lake along with other local cowboys such as Gerald James, Hugh Loring, Clint Ellis and Wade Gentles. Woods also rode with Bernie Rivet and Wade McNolty back in the day.
A serious injury ended Woods’ bull riding days in 1999 on a bull named “Playboy Willy.”
Woods said the bull wasn’t mean, but when he jumped off its back, its legs landed on Woods’ back while he was crouched down. His injures included a broken back, nine broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and a broken femur.
“He bent me like an accordion. I thought I was done.”
Woods spend several days in hospital recovering. Meanwhile, his good friend McNolty sold his bull riding gear. “He wasn’t going to let me get back on a bull.”
These days you still won’t find Woods far from rodeo.
“I can’t sit in the bleachers. I have to be part of the action.”
Woods is a regular at every Williams Lake Stampede, where he opens the gates for all the rough stock and also gives tips to the youngsters coming up in rodeo.
“I really enjoy helping the kids. I like showing them whatever I can to help them along.”
Woods lives at Miocene where he has a hobby farm. For the last 15 years he has worked driving truck for CN Rail. Prior to that he drove for Earl and Roy Call of C Plus Rodeos hauling stock for several years to rodeos across the country. Before that, he worked in logging.
“Rodeo was always No. 1.”
Woods has two children; his daughter Chevi Raeshel Woods, born in 1997, and his son, Jaxen Lennon Woods, born in 2001.
When she was little Chevi sang the national anthem at many rodeos growing up, and more recently, sang O’Canada at the indoor rodeo in Williams Lake.
“I’m proud of my kids.”
Woods said he will keep on opening gates at the rodeo for as long as possible, and when he can’t do that anymore, he will find something else to do to stay close to the action.
“I love rodeo and I will my whole life.”
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