With a shared passion of rodeo and deep-rooted traditional values, Dakota and Quincy Eldridge are forging their own path in today’s Western industry.
A sorrel gelding with a star on his head grazes the pasture in Reedley, California, on the Freeman family ranch. Though his haricot has more white hairs than his younger days and his steps have slowed since carrying his owner, Dakota Eldridge, to the fastest scores in steer wrestling across college, amateur and the National Finals Rodeo, “Rusty” will forever live with Dakota, his wife, Quincy Freeman Eldridge, and daughter, Sally Lou and Ruby Rosita. Rusty is a champion but he’s also part-matchmaker. If a horse could talk, Rusty would tell the story of how he helped Dakota get the girl, who fell for the Nevada cowboy after seeing how thoughtfully he cared fro his trusty mount.
The Eldridge family lives and works on Bill Freeman’s ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, where he runs yearling cattle. When they aren’t working the ranch, their time is spent on the rodeo road, as Dakota chases another NFR qualification and a world title. Though he already boasts a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association reserve world championship, the cowboy is hoping to increase his earnings in the arena, which already exceed $1 million. While also mothering 1-year-old Sally and May-born Ruby, Quincy runs Rodeo Quincy, a Western fashion brand that sells wholesale to stores like Boot Barn and Cavender’s and direct to consumer online.
The two make their busy lives look easy. Even when they met as youth rodeo competitors, the two were hustling for both work and rodeo. With a focus on faith and family, they make it work.
“Always follow your passion and you never know where it will take you,” Dakota says. “If you have faith and live every day for what it is, you can achieve it.” Achieve they both have, from Quincy’s early days creating unique tack and Dakota’s time competing in different rodeo events to their success today, they are making their way in not one, but two Western industries.
Quincy Marvel Freeman grew up immersed in ranching and horses in California. The youngest of Sally Marvel Freeman and Bill Freeman, Quincy was raised on the ranch and influenced by her stylish, yet handy, mother.
“I was born into a rodeo and ranching family, but I was involved in sports. Then, in high school, I started to high school rodeo. That’s when I really fell in love with the sport. Every weekend, we were headed to a rodeo,” Quincy says. “Rodeo is such a family sport and some of the best memories I have to look back on were my high school rodeo days, practicing and learning from my parents how to be a horsewoman. As I got older, I realized I learned valuable skills that are life skills outside the rodeo arena.”
Rodeo in both California and Nevada was a given, as Quincy’s mom grew up there and Quincy’s grandfather, Tom Marvel, was a renown buckaroo horseman. “Papa Tom” not only influenced Quincy’s riding, but he also taught a young man from Nevada how to ride cutting horses for high school rodeo. That young man was Dakota Eldridge.
“Our families go way back and we had to double-check the family tree when we got together,” Quincy says with a laugh. “Dakota is from a Nevada ranching family and the same area as my mom’s family. Papa [Tom] would come and stay with us in California in the winters when he and my grandmother, Rosita, got older, because winters were so cold in Nevada. He would tell me how wonderful Dakota was and how great he was with a horse, and he taught Dakota how to cut in Nevada.
“I didn’t really listen to him much, but long story short, I made the high school finals and I met Dakota’s dad up there, ” she continues. “He asked me if I was Quincy Marvel, which is my middle name, and I remember wondering who he was, but he said I had to meet his son, Dakota.”
Dakota grew up ranching with his family and grandfather, Tom Eldridge, who leased land on places like the Winecup Ranch.
“It was a family affair to go to the junior rodeos, loaded up in my dad’s old Dodge [hauling] a rusty Charmac trailer;’ Dakota says. “My dad always told me we unloaded the best horses, and we were there to win. From a young age, rodeo and horses have been in my life. I team roped, [tie-down] roped and steer wrestled in high school. [In] junior rodeo, I did all the events. Growing up on the Winecup, it was long, hard days that taught you life lessons of hard work.”
Eventually, Quincy and Dakota became friends and then more. Though Dakota went to Blue Mountain College in Pendleton, Oregon, and Quincy attended California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California, both rodeoed and, after a few years, the two began dating.
“I think we were meant to eventually be together;’ says Quincy. “One of the things that was so attractive about Dakota in college was that he took such good care of his horses, like Rusty. I would be waiting to go to dinner, and he would still be brushing or wrapping legs!”
It was early on that both Dakota and Quincy realized they had unique opportunities provided to them due to hard work both in and out of the arena.
Growing up, Quincy’s mother set a fashionable example for her, both in and out of the arena. While Quincy wore a uniform to her private school, she was encouraged to find individuality. In turn, she sought a unique look at school and in the rodeo pen.
“Mom was as fashionable as could be, but could ride with any man;’ Quincy says. “Cutting and showing, she wore red lipstick and leopard and fur, always dressed to the nines but tougher than nails. She always encouraged me to stand out of the crowd. My senior year in high school, I was [rodeoing] in my own hand-painted tack. It caught a lot of attention at the time because things were pretty bland, no fringe or rhinestones. I painted bright red roses.”
At the National High School Finals Rodeo, her tack caught the attention of Western brand Ariat, which soon launched “Ariat’s Quincy Collection” when she was just 18 years old. It was her first foray into the fashion industry, but not her last.
“I had a professor [at Cal Poly] that entered me in a business pitch competition;” Quincy says. “I was so nervous! I prepared and pitched my own idea to start a business – and I won. I went on to the national competition in Chicago and won that! At home, everyone congratulated me on my new business, and while I wasn’t sure I was going to do it, I felt like I couldn’t let everyone down. Ariat had given me that opportunity, then I won this competition. My family supported me, Dakota supported me, and they all told me this was my chance to try and make this company work. That is how I started Rodeo Quincy.
“It’s pivoted quite a few times. I started with Quincy tack and belts, doing horse tack, then, Rodeo Quincy started as strictly boots. Now, we are heavy on the apparel side of things and offer boots and children [apparel], also.”
Since then, she has collaborated with Wrangler and is working with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to launch a project this fall that includes a men’s and women’s line of apparel and accessories.
As Quincy’s path took her into the bowels of the Western fashion industry, Dakota’s was taking him along the rodeo road. The multi-event rodeo hand hit the Northwest rodeo circuit as a heeler for friend Garrett Jess after his freshman year of college. He obtained his PRCA permit in 2010 and received his card in 2013.
“My rookie year, 2012, I transitioned to mainly [tie-down] roping and steer wrestling,” Dakota says. “I had put team roping on the back burner and had really fallen in love with tie-down roping. I knew I had a great steer wrestling horse, Rusty, and I bought a good calf horse that summer. I won the steer wrestling Resistol Rookie of the Year and then the All-Around Rookie of the Year. I realized it was God’s path and I had a great steer wrestling horse. The next year, I decided to make a career out of it and make it to the Finals. I ended up 15th and made the NFR in 2013.”
That great horse, Rusty, was raised on the Winecup Ranch. Dakota’s father had always told him Rusty would be a great steer wrestling mount. The prophecy came true, as Rusty helped Dakota qualify for not only the high school rodeo finals but also the College National Finals Rodeo, then five NFRs.
While he’s gone on to be successful on a number of other mounts, a point Quincy proudly makes for her husband, Rusty helped shape Dakota’s career.
“Luke Branquinho won a gold buckle on him in 2014 and I won two average buckles on him – that horse was sheer grit, determination and heart,” Dakota says. “Once steer wrestling became my career, I dove down the rabbit hole and perfected it along the way. My steer wrestling [career] grew and grew, and Rusty gave me an opportunity. I wasn’t the best steer wrestler, but I had a winning attitude and a great horse, and that is what got me through the first few NFRs. Then, from there, I just developed my skills more and more.”
Dakota and Quincy married in 2018 and merged their busy schedules. Dakota was pursuing his next NFR qualification and Quincy was building her brand into an apparel empire. However, when Quincy’s mom unexpectedly died in 2020, the couple had to pivot their plans.
Now based in California on Quincy’s family ranch, the Eldridges have welcomed two daughters into their lives while maintaining their lifestyle. In fact, little Ruby was headed to her first rodeo, in Reno, Nevada, when she was only two-and-a-half weeks old.
“It is never too early to become immersed in the Western way of life,” Quincy says. “We are excited to take the kids with us. A big thing for me is being around the people in this industry. They are the salt of the earth kind of people. The people I work with and work around, and people I get to make things for, give me the greatest joy when I see them wearing something I made. Seeing women in their outfits and making them feel beautiful gives me joy.”
Though there has been a learning curve running yearling cattle on the family’s 2,000 acres alongside Quincy’s dad, the shared goals to continue the ranch is a mainstay. Dakota hopes the opportunities he and Quincy had growing up are still available when his girls are older.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher. I see a lot of families moving out of California that have ranched their entire lives, and they can’t make it work,” Dakota says. “All the struggles of life create who you are today. Quincy has had a new perspective on life since she lost her mom. She is always positive and upbeat. I feel like I have that down in the arena, as far as having a winning attitude. I think at the end of the day, be thankful for what you got and have faith.”
He echoes Quincy’s hopes and outlook for their future and their children’s future.
“Any door to opportunity that opens, at any age, you should take,” Quincy says. “One opportunity always leads to another. I hope [our girls] will someday contribute to the Western way of life, and I don’t know what that will be. Dakota and I contribute in two totally different ways, but I hope we spark a passion for them that was sparked in us. We hope they will influence and stay in this lifestyle.”
Their daughter, Sally Lou Eldridge, is already on her way, enjoying rides on Rusty around the pasture, sometimes sporting the children’s attire designed by her stylish mother. It’s a nonstop way of life that brings its own set of challenges, but it is one that neither Quincy nor Dakota would trade.
“We have so much to be thankful, grateful and happy for,” Quincy says. “It’s not all glitz and glamour in rodeo or in my career, but as long as we are healthy and happy with friends and family around us, that is what is most important.”
This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue of Western Horseman.