Beaches and Brahmas: Luis Lahoz started team roping career in Dominican Republic
January 3, 2019
Luis Lahoz appears to be a typical professional rodeo athlete. The black glove tucked in his belt, a Fastback rope looped through his arm, and his tall Quarter Horse, carefully brushed and topped with a Stray Star custom team roping saddle give away his trade. To a stranger, the only mystery about Luis is the origin of his slight Spanish accent. "Most people just think I'm Mexican," he says. The difference between Luis and most team ropers in the Great Plains area is that he learned to ride a horse and swing a rope on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. He is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Luis's experience with horses begins one generation back. His father, Hector (originally from Puerto Rico), competed in polo in the United States. Hector, his wife, and baby Luis lived in Rapid City for two years while he competed.
After an injury, Hector sought a new discipline in the equine business. Luis says, "He ended up having shoulder surgery. After that, he went back to play but it wasn't the same so he had to give it up."
The Lahoz family moved back to the Dominican Republic and became involved in the American Quarter Horse Association. Hector adapted well to all disciplines, as he was an experienced horse trainer. "He's always been a horseman," says Luis. "He's done it all." Riding reining horses was the next step for Hector and Luis.
Hector works for Provimi France, a Cargill company and the leader in animal nutrition in France and the Dominican Republic. Luis's mother, Lissette, works in risk analysis for the Dominican Republic national government, and regulates the import of animals and food to the country. His sister, Isabella, will graduate high school next year and plans to come to the United States to pursue a degree in business. Luis is appreciative of his parents and says, "They've made a huge impact in me. Both of them are hard workers. They pursued what they wanted so they've always been behind me. Even when I've had bad days."
Luis was successful in the AQHA Youth Division while he was in the Dominican Republic. "We had a team that went to the AQHA Youth World Cup for two or three years. We went to places like Texas, Canada and Germany."
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The family slowly became involved in team roping. "I started roping probably seven years ago," says Luis. "We have our personal roping at our house right before Thanksgiving every year. It started as a little backyard roping for my birthday and my uncle's. It kept getting bigger and bigger. The last two years we've given out trailers and qualifications to the World Series Finals in Las Vegas."
The Dominican Republic is 18,000 square miles of coastland and agriculture, sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Major trades include coffee, sugar, rice and dairy cattle, but the cattle population is not ideal for team ropers. The import of Quarter Horses from the United States is simple, but importing Corriente roping steers proves to be too much of a risk, so the local ropers make do. "We had one longhorn steer get brought to the island and we are growing our own. When we started, we were roping brahmas. Steer-wise it's getting better," explains Luis. Luis's passion soon outgrew the hobby-style roping in his island home. He says, "The only way I could rope and go to school was in the States." Connections in the equine world helped to get him there. Luis says that Carl and Karen McCuisition of Oklahoma trained horses with Hector and judged reining competitions on the island. Their nephew, JW McCuistion, was the assistant rodeo coach at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado in 2013. Luis attended Otero for a year before transferring to Northeast Texas Community College. He graduated with a degree in farm and ranch management with a minor in animal science.
From there, Luis lived with Jace Melvin in Texas before moving to Blunt, South Dakota. Jace's sister and her husband, Jenny and Brent Belkham, took Luis under their wing for the summer of 2018. Luis had the opportunity to compete in Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association rodeos as well as local professional rodeos. Luis extended his appreciation to the Belkham family and says, "They didn't have to do any of the things they did for me but they still did. I really appreciate everything."
Luis gained several "lifelong" friends, including Chance Jandel and JD Kirwan, both of South Dakota. Luis and Kirwan made a winning team over the summer as the pair won Hettinger, North Dakota, placed at Isabel, South Dakota and Gordon, Nebraska amateur rodeos.
Though he has no set plans, right now he's living in Stephenville, Texas, looking forward to furthering his roping career. He considers that home now, but returns to the Dominican Republic for the annual Thanksgiving roping and is preparing for the World Series Roping Finale and a winter spent in Wickenburg, Arizona, competing in jackpots. He hopes to return to South Dakota next summer and rope professionally in the Badlands Circuit.
While he's made a lot of friends and has better opportunities to rope, there are two things he really misses about the Dominican Republic–his family, and easy access to the beach.