Courtesy of Weatherford College
For years, the Weatherford College basketball program has had players from overseas dotting its roster. Now, it appears that rodeo coach Johnny Emmons is taking a cue from hoops.
Emmons’ newest roster addition is from Italy - the one overseas, not the one in Texas. However, Francesca Riccardi is certainly familiar with a couple of things popular in Texas.
She loves to rodeo and she loves horses.
“I was looking for a college that offered a program of equine science and that had the possibility for me to become part of a rodeo team as a barrel racer,” said Riccardi.
“I’ve been here in Texas before. I looked on the Internet and asked some friends in the U.S., and everybody said that the equine program here is really good.
“I was accepted at other colleges, but all things kept sending me to Weatherford College.”
Emmons said he’d heard about Riccardi from some mutual friends.
“I would say that’s the most far away anyone has come,” he said. “We had two Hawaiians come a couple years ago, and we’ve had a few Canadians as well.”
Riccardi’s resume includes being the National Barrel Horse Association Italy Junior Champion, Italian and European Youth Reserve Champion, and finishing fourth at the European Championship.
“Barrel racing is tough in Texas, but she has a great reputation and I feel she will be competitive,” said Emmons.
Riccardi is no stranger to American rodeos. In fact, she and her family have lived in America previously.
“My parents followed the American dream,” she said. “My dad was a football player in Italy and my mother loved horses, so my sister and I inherited this dream and that’s the reason I’m here.
“We’ve been in different places, from New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco to Wyoming, Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs.”
And she previously spent a couple months living in Texas with a friend. She has also competed in the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo, along with NBHA events, including the NBHA Youth World competition in 2011 and 2012.
But Riccardi said rodeos in America are different from those back home.
“I think it is a more competitive event, while in Italy, it’s more like demonstrations and it’s all about entertaining people,” she said.
“There are just a few rodeos in all of Europe. At the Cowboys Guest Ranch (her facility in her hometown of Voghera) we host five rodeos in one year and there is just another one in France, and that’s it.”
And even though she’s no stranger to the U.S., she does admit that it is a different lifestyle.
“It’s really hard to leave your usual life and get involved in a world opposite of yours,” she said. “Here it’s all so different. In Italy everything is really small and it’s all so close.”
Riccardi was raised as a child in Milan before her family moved to the smaller town, built a facility and a ranch--all focused on American life.
“We have an American restaurant, a saloon, a western store, a small hotel, a theme park with animals like bison, raccoons, horses and cows, and we have two outdoor arenas and an indoor arena with 1,000 seats where we host competitions,” said Riccardi.
“I’m excited for her and hope she does well, and I look forward to seeing her compete,” said Emmons. “If she does well, she will make an impact on our team. Otherwise, she brings attention to our team on an international basis.”
While she does love rodeo, it is not the passion Riccardi wants to pursue for the rest of her life.
“I came here to pursue the equine science program because in Italy, equine studies don’t exist,” she said. “I really want to know everything about my passion. Here I can study while continuing to grow up as a rider and a person.”
As for whether her future lies in America or Italy, Riccardi doesn’t really care as long it includes working with horses.
“Horses will always be a part of my life,” she said.