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5-Time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho On His Road to Victory


Walk the streets of tiny Los Alamos, California, and it’s hard to miss the larger than life photo of Luke Branquinho adorning the front of the town's favorite restaurant. He’s celebrated here, and anywhere else you'll find a rodeo fan for that matter. Born into a ranching family that goes back nearly a century on California’s Central Coast, Luke comes from deep roots and learned the sweet taste of victory through years of unbridled determination. The world knows the champion, but his hometown and those around him know the man — a humble competitor that values hard work, family and a special connection with the horses that have taken him to the top.

“That adrenaline rush still gets me every time I ride into the arena. When I quit having that rush, it’s time to retire.”
Luke Branquinho

“From the time I can remember, we were on the back of a horse gathering, sorting or branding cattle,” says Branquinho. “My parents are cattlemen and farmers and wanted us to know the importance of a hard day's work.” Luke is quick to give credit to his family and his upbringing on the ranch for paving the way to his success in the arena. “I remember riding around everywhere with my dad as a kid,” he says. “Whether it was working cattle, working on tractors or going out hunting. I always came home proud of what we did together on the ranch, and that’s something I want my boys to have.” Luke and wife Lindsay, an accomplished rider in her own right, are raising three sons on the family ranch, Cade, Jameson and the newest Branquinho brother, Bear. “There aren't a lot of kids today that get to lead the lifestyle that made me who I am and made my dad who he is.” It's a life that was bred into the Branquinho family and now carries on through the newest generation.

Like his parents before him and now his sons, growing up in rodeo taught Branquinho the value of good horses. He'll be the first to tell you that behind each of his gold buckles is a roster of horses to whom he owes his success. “Our sport isn't like any other. It's not just us, we have a partner, and that partner is an animal,” he says. “Our horses are a big part of our lives, and as much as I love the competition, I never forget that without the horses I’m not worth much in the arena.” The horses he speaks of include some of the best equine athletes to ever chase a steer, from Luke's early mount, Jackpot, to fabled champions Gunner, Willy, Zan, Dillon and Rusty. “I'm not a pride of ownership type of guy,” says Branquinho. “If I know there’s a great horse out there, I'll try to get on him. Fortunately, there have been a lot of guys that have let me get on a lot of great horses, and they’ve helped me out so much in my career.” It's that camaraderie that Luke and his fellow steer wrestlers are well-known for. Look closely during the NFR, and you’ll see a band of brothers, each one of them helping the next out in the box, hazing for each other throughout the year and practicing together to help hone their runs before they lay it all on the line in Las Vegas. “This is different than any other sport. It's not me against 14 other competitors at the NFR. I look at it as me against the steer I’ve drawn,” says Branquinho. “It’s sportsmanship and friendship, we help sharpen each other up, and it makes it that much more fun, constructive and rewarding.”

With the near-constant travel and miles on the road, Branquinho and his fellow competitors not only rely on each other, but also on the friends they've made along the way. Most notably, the veterinarians that keep professional rodeo horses at their peak hold a special place in the hearts of men like Luke. “Veterinarians are huge in our business, they keep us going,” says Branquinho. When he names names, the appreciation is clear in his voice. “Dr. Ed Hamer, he’s always on the phone when I need him,” says Branquinho, “Dr. Doug Corey out of Walla Walla, Dr. Candice Carden out of Casey, Wyoming, Dr. Greg Veneklasen in Amarillo and Dr. Stuart Shoemaker in Idaho — these vets have made the difference of whether I get to the next rodeo or whether I go home. They take care of our horses, and for that, we’re so grateful.” Branquinho is convinced that veterinarians, like rodeo athletes, love the challenge and they love the horses themselves. “Veterinarians love animals, and they love to see them perform. There’s a sense of pride in it for them.” It was through his veterinarian that Branquinho first heard of Platinum Performance® so many years ago. “We’re competing as fast as we can go against the very best guys and horses in the world. I feel like Platinum helps me make the difference between getting a check or not, between first and second. We're talking a difference of one tenth of a second that can decide your fate in the standings. I want that edge, and I want to know my horses are getting the best.”

2000

PRCA Overall & Steer Wrestling Resistol Rookie of the Year

2004

First World Title & Set Single-Season Earnings Record ($193,614)

2008

WNFR Average Title (41.9/10), Second World Title & New Earnings Record ($242,018)

2011

Wins Rounds 5 & 9 of WNFR on Way to Third World Championship; Finishes with $234,518

2012

Wins Round 4 of WNFR, Event Record for Round Wins (21) & Fourth World Championship

2014

Extends Round Wins to 23 at WNFR; Third WNFR Average Title & Fifth Gold Buckle

Standing in the spotlight on the most prestigious stage in rodeo — gold buckle in hand — didn't come easy for Branquinho. With two major injuries in his career, he’s fought his way back — head down and focused. “When I got hurt, there were a lot of people who said it was going to be tough for me to come back with any kind of success,” he says. “It took a lot of preparation, hours in the gym, physical therapy and work to sharpen my mind back to where it needed to be last year.” It was that level of attention and grit that made his fifth World Champion title in 2014 one of the sweetest. “2014 probably stands out more than any of them after getting hurt at Salinas, California, working so hard to come back, then coming back a little bit earlier than they recommended. That was probably the toughest thing I’ve done and being able to overcome all of that really made it that much more special.”

Branquinho understands the fight to the top on a deeper level than most, staring down not only major injuries but also the challenge of managing Type I Diabetes. He was diagnosed at the start of his rodeo career, prompting many to question whether a constant life on the road paired with the peaks and valleys of Diabetes would ever allow him to be a real competitor. “Taking great care of my horses was always important to me, and I came second to them. Suddenly, I fully understood how fragile health and performance can be,” he remembers. “I discovered the importance of nutrition for not only me but my horses. As a team, if we’re not feeling good and competing well, we don’t win. I want my animals in top shape, just as I want myself in top shape,” Branquinho says. He takes his health seriously as not only a competitive athlete but a father of three. “Diabetes adds another level of challenges to the mix. No matter what you do, it’s always throwing you a curveball. It’s how you swing at the curveball that makes a difference.” It was after his diagnosis that he came to Platinum Performance® for his own health, rather than just that of his horses. “I’ve been with Platinum a long time, and I feel like I’m part of the family. They worked with me to get my nutrition straightened out. Type I isn’t caused by lifestyle, but nutrition goes a long way in managing blood sugar. It’s a big part of the equation for me.”

Like Luke and his brothers before them, Luke’s three sons Cade, Jameson and Bear are pictured on the Los Alamos, California, ranch where their grandparents and parents run cattle as a family. At right, Luke’s wife Lindsay with their newest addition, Bear Branquinho
Photos by Brandon Bessey

Today, Branquinho is thriving, back from injury and healthy after a hard-fought 2015 National Finals Rodeo.

“Pulling into Vegas for the NFR is an awesome feeling. No matter how many times I’ve been there, I get chills,” he says. It’s the culmination of a long year of hard work, miles away from home and the result of careful preparation by fierce competitors, both cowboys and horses. “I back in the box in the Thomas & Mack and the adrenaline rush is going, but it’s almost like you can’t hear anything,” he says. “That adrenaline rush still gets me every time I ride into the arena. When I quit having that rush, it’s time to retire.” Aside from his family, Branquinho’s motivation is fueled by the fans. “We have the best fans of any sport out there. Most of them are horse people themselves, hard workers and salt of the earth. It’s a big deal to us that they come out to support us, so giving it our best for them is very important.”

One thing is a certainty for this California cowboy. He gave it his all at the 2015 National Finals Rodeo. As he rode out of the arena after round 10, he tipped his hat to the crowd and the horse that carried him there, and pointed himself toward home with his wife and three small cowboys eager to carry on the Branquinho legacy on the ranch and in the arena.

See Luke's Formulas for Success

Jessie Bengoa
  • by Jessie Bengoa, Platinum Performance®