One Family’s Story of Carrying on an Ag Tradition
Florida’s roots are planted deep in agriculture, and many of the rigors of farm or ranch life get elevated to an art form with competitions and all the fancy trimmings. Just as barrel racing, bull riding, and calf roping in Rodeo sprang from the daily tasks of the cowboy life, the art form of whip cracking or whip popping arose from using whips to drive cattle through the early days of Florida ranching. The Waldman Family in Central Florida has taken the art form of whip popping to heart, as siblings from ages six to 16 have discovered the thrill of taking a bull whip in each hand and letting ’er go.
Their story starts with roots, too, according to the kids’ mother, Renee: “My cousin, Mike Booth, carried on my grandfather’s legacy of knowing how to crack a whip. When Ryan was four, Mike was performing at the Strawberry Festival. After the show he put a whip in Ryan’s hand and demonstrated the motions of what to do.” Family friends have also influenced the two eldest boys, Ryan, now 16, and Grayson, 13. “After seeing a State competition and liking it,” shares Renee, “Ryan and Grayson got their first chance to compete at our friend’s Veteran’s Day party about five years ago.” The rest— as they say— was history.
It wasn’t but a few months later, at the Polk County Youth Fair, where the two eldest boys started to shine. “Ryan placed second in the Intermediate Division and Grayson placed first in the Junior Division. Needless to say, they were very excited,” Renee relates. The competition stepped up a notch the next year when the two boys were in the same division. It was “brother against brother,” Renee remembers. “Josiah placed first and Grayson second. We all laugh and think Josiah had the cuteness factor, not to mention he could crack!”
The younger kids, Josiah, 11; Mariah, nine; and Isaac, six, followed in the older brothers’ whip cracking steps, and they’ve all started to find fun and success in the art.
It’s not hard, as whip popping fits right into the family’s lifestyle. “We have a small farm and try to raise and grow much of our food,” relates Renee. “We have some cattle that the kids will move by cracking a whip if needed.” While whip cracking is a necessity on the farm, the fun of it means the kids make time for it among their chores and schooling. “This flexibility has given the children a lot of time to practice,” continues Renee. “When it gets close to a competition, they are outside morning and late afternoon practicing, timing each other, and helping one another.”
Their commitment to practicing is pretty obvious come competition time. Ryan lately placed first in the Senior Division at the 2014 Polk County Youth Fair, in September’s State competition in Kissimmee, and in a competition in Homeland, FL in October. Grayson also placed first— in the Intermediate Division— in both the 2014 PCYF and in Homeland; though he’s most excited about winning third place in the State competition. Josiah also placed second in the Junior Division at the 2014 PCYF and first in the Intermediate Division at The Story Telling Festival in Homeland.
Similarly, Mariah, in her first year, placed first in the Junior Division in Homeland. Isaac, the youngest, placed second in the Homeland competition and took home trophies at the state competition for being the youngest competitor.
While the Waldmans win a lot, raking in the ribbons isn’t the main attraction. It’s about celebrating the fun and healthfulness of the ag lifestyle while exalting in the love of God and family. “As their parents, we don’t put any undue pressure on them. We tell them to go out there, do their best, and have fun. It just happens to be something they love to do. It’s great exercise, not to mention all the fresh air and camaraderie they’ve developed. It’s a big bonus that we can all be a part of this as a family and build each other up,” confirms their father Ryan.
Illustrating the bonds created by the craft, and the kindness shown by ag folks, Ryan shares how a recent misfortune turned into proof of the family’s faith. “Earlier this year, we had a barn fire and lost everything in it, including the boys’ whips.” In response, a Georgia whip-maker, Rhett Kelley, posted a call for assistance on Facebook. “They rallied together and replaced the boys’ whips,” relates Ryan. “Their cousin, Mike Booth, had six new whips made for them as well. It lifted the boys’ spirits to say the least. We are so grateful for the generosity of all those who helped us in our time of need.”
At the end of the day, the family gives all the credit to great Florida ag people, and to God. “How blessed we are to live in this great state of Florida,” maintains Ryan. “God is good all the time! O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. Psalm 136:1.”
story by ERIKA ALDRICH
photo by PEZZIMENTI