Billie McBride Among 2018 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Inductees
By Ann Bleiker
Billie McBride was fearless. Whether in the saddle aboard her favorite mare Zombie or guiding the budding Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) as its President, McBride had absolutely no backup in her. Today, her competitive records and history of service to the ladies association has landed her in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
McBride is part of the second class of inductees to go into professional rodeo’s most hallowed halls from the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), joining inaugural class Charmayne James, Wanda Bush and Star Plaudit and fellow 2018 inductees Kristie Peterson and French Flash Hawk, aka Bozo.
Billie McBride with Zombie
McBride and Peterson are well teamed in the 2018 class; both cowgirls own four world championships in barrel racing, a mark only beaten by James’ 11 titles. In fact, McBride held the record for world championships for nearly three decades before James beat her mark with a fifth WPRA championship earned in 1988.
After attending a Fourth of July rodeo in Belton, Texas at the age of ten, McBride decided that barrel racing would be her game. She and older sister, Eula Gene, were soon not only competing, but winning.
“Mother was the second oldest and I was told it was said back then that if the Hinson girls were coming, everyone else was running for third,” notes Alva Jean Meek, McBride’s daughter. “Back then, they ran for prizes and it was hard to go when they were not being compensated.”
Meek notes that McBride kept the ribbons, trophies and even watches accrued in her pre-GRA days but that the lack of true prize money began to wear on the ladies.
“That was one reason the girls got together and got organized . . . they needed to be competing for money too,” says Meek.
When the ladies got together in San Angelo in February 1948, McBride signed up as a charter member of the new Association. She carried card number nine. Her three sisters soon followed her into the new endeavor.
Meek was just three years old when the GRA was formed but remembers her mother talking to committee members and producers about hosting GRA sanctioned events, which came with standardized rules and at least a minimal amount of prize money.
From the beginning, McBride volunteered her time to the Association.
Billie McBride with Zombie
After serving as Vice President, McBride was elected GRA President in 1957. During her tenure, the then-Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) announced its intention to start a season ending championship rodeo known as the National Finals Rodeo (NFR). McBride lobbied to have the barrel race included at the new event, to be held in Dallas, Texas.
“We couldn’t get into the NFR, they wouldn’t take us,” McBride said in a 2009 WPRN article. McBride was able to secure the GRA’s first season ending Finals barrel race with the RCA’s steer roping instead. “The steer ropers said they would have us. They thought it would add to their finals to have us there, and I think it did.”
The GRA would continue to have their Finals with the RCA steer roping finals for several years, eventually paving the way for the barrel racers to join the rest of the RCA events at the NFR in 1968.
McBride finished out 13 years of service to the GRA by serving as the Association Secretary from 1962 to 1964.
“She didn’t type but I did,” laughs Meek. “I took a typing class in high school so I would type up the newsletter under her direction.”
Together, McBride and her daughter would then mimeograph copies, folding, stamping and hand addressing them to each of the Association’s members.
McBride passed away at the age of 90 in May 2017. After her death, Meek found old copies of Western Horseman magazine in a large iron washtub her mother kept.
“They had a monthly article she wrote on the GRA,” says Meek. “She loved doing it, especially since she wasn’t rodeoing as much.”
Inside the arena, McBride was one of the earliest stars of the GRA. Riding the great mare Zombie A, McBride won four straight titles and a Reserve World Championship to boot.
Billie McBride with Zombie
McBride and her husband at the time, Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Famer Wilson McBride, took the mare in trade as a possible roping prospect.
“The people that owned her were racing her but she was just not quite fast enough for racing,” remembers Meek. “Mother had another horse at the time so they traded for Zombie to try for roping.”
“She was going to make a rope horse but Daddy always tried them on the barrels too,” Meek adds. “They could tell she was going to be a natural and mother won the first barrel race she went to.”
In 1954 McBride and Zombie hit the rodeo scene, finishing as Reserve World Champs while the mare was still just four years old.
“She always gave all she had,” McBride told the WPRN in 2009. “She was one hundred percent all the time.”
Billie McBride with Zombie
So was her jockey. In the days before age limits, a young Meek often competed alongside her mother. Both ladies rode Zombie.
“I started at nine years old as a professional,” Meek says. “We would always be up in the same perf and we’d put mother first because it was more important that she do well than for me. So she’d run first and we’d frantically change the stirrups and I’d run last.
“Zombie loved it; she knew what was going on and she couldn’t wait to get back in there.”
Meek notes that she beat her mother on her own horse a time or two, often when conditions got tricky.
“If it was raining or muddy . . . that didn’t slow mother down a bit, she’d go as hard as she could and sometimes Zombie would slip or slide some,” Meeks laughs ironically. “Then I’d run and I never pushed her as hard, I was just having fun. And I’d beat her because we wouldn’t slip.”
McBride dominated the championship races from 1955 until 1958, earning $6,498 in her final title run. Along the way, she won all the major rodeos of the time including Chicago, San Angelo, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., and Oklahoma City.
McBride and Zombie competed at the first NFR for barrel racers in Clayton, New Mexico, the very event she had helped orchestrate as President, in 1959. However, it would be one of the last big events for the great mare. She had night blindness and night performances and coliseums were impossible for her. Retired from pro rodeo, she lived out her days carrying Meek’s kids to wins in junior events.
Billie McBride with Zombie
Though neck issues prevented McBride from continuing her own competitive career inside the arena, she did not slow down. She worked for M.L. Leddy’s at their original shop in San Angelo for more than thirty years, including during her rodeo years.
“It was a feather in their cap too, to have a champion working for them,” notes Meek. “They were real good to her.”
McBride stitched the ornamental tops of the boots made in the store for many years. In her final years at the company, she worked in the Novelty Department, sewing everything from billfolds to hand tooled leather notebooks.
“She could fly,” Meek laughs of watching her mother sew.
It seemed McBride never could sit still. Even in retirement, she stayed active, keeping up with friends and their kids on social media, attending numerous events and getting out to mow the lawn.
“She was still a ball of fire, right to the end,” says Meek. “We lived next door and the week before her stroke, she was out riding her lawn mower, with her cowboy hat on, enjoying the sun on her face.”
Meek and her husband took McBride to out of town functions, such as a couple of trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) along with nearly annual visits to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.”
“She loved going and being there,” Meek says. “Any rodeo she went to, you’d find her in the grandstands and she was always keeping all the times,” Meek says, noting her parents both worked rodeos in their younger years with Billie timing while her husband worked chute gates.
Both Wilson and Billie, along with their daughter and Billie’s three sisters have been inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. McBride is also enshrined in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
Though she passed just a year before being selected to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Meek believes her mother would have been very pleased.
“It would mean a lot to her simply because [the barrel racers] are finally being accepted with the PRCA,” Meek says. McBride donated many items to the Hall for the display honoring GRA/WPRA history last year.
Meek adds that McBride had been thrilled to see her longtime friend Wanda Bush inducted last year. “A friend told her, ‘you need to be in it,’ and she told them, ‘I would love that!’”
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