A glimpse into Kay Gay’s “costume closet” tells a behind-the-scenes rodeo story.

By Susan Morrison
February 8, 2017

ClosetKay Gay’s costume closet is filled to the brim with rodeo history. Photo by Ross Hecox

“Come here,” Kay Gay said. “Let me show you my costume closet.”

Knowing her background—rodeo secretary, flag bearer, costume designer, painter, wife of rodeo legend Neal Gay—I eagerly followed her, only to find a large closet virtually overflowing with sequined costumes, matching sets of chaps for the pick-up men, boots and assorted boxes with carefully written notes telling their contents. It was a veritable rodeo history lesson, and a sparkly one at that. I was lucky to see it while spending part of a day at the Gays’ home last fall during interviews for “The Rodeo Gene,” a feature in the January 2017 issue of Western Horseman.

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If you’ve ever attended one of the many rodeo performances during the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, you’ve seen the tradition and pageantry of the opening ceremonies and grand entry. A group of girls on palomino horses rides in, with one carrying the American flag and another toting the Texas flag. The flag bearers post the colors, and then stop for the invocation and singing of the national anthem. The entire group sets pivots for the grand entry, when rodeo officials and contestants ride in. They gallop out of the arena, signaling the start of the rodeo.

The girls’ colorful costumes are as essential to the show as the palominos they ride. And for decades, Kay has coordinated the girls, costumes and horses at each rodeo produced by Rafter G Rodeo Company. She has put years of experience, passion and creativity into the “palomino parade” so many people enjoy. It has always been a family affair, with the wives of sons Donnie and Jim helping out.

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At the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, which Neal founded in 1958, it was Kay’s job to be timer and secretary, but she also carried the flag in the grand entry.

“The girls in the front who carry the American and Texas flags need to be flashy,” she says, “so I got into making costumes.”

When Rafter G began producing the Fort Worth rodeos, she did costumes for it, too.

“I’ve had a good time doing it,” she says. “This year I’m turning the job of keeping up with the pivot girls over to Brenda, Jim’s wife. She carried the flag after I retired. Donnie’s wife also carried the flag. Now my granddaughters [Megan and Summer] are doing it.”

Megan SummerMegan (left) and Summer Gay, granddaughters of Neal and Kay Gay, carry the flags in the grand entry at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Kay still designs costumes for the girls. Photo courtesy of Brenda Gay

The girls have inherited their grandmother’s love of the costumes, often going through some of the boxes, digging for treasure they’ve never seen.

“We were in my costume closet and Megan, the oldest, said, ‘What’s in that box?’” I said it was some of my old rodeo costumes,” Kay said. “She asked if she could look at them, and I said sure. Next thing I knew, she had on that costume! She just put it on, and nothing was altered.”

Some things just seem to run in the family.

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