A Family Tradition

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A Family Tradition

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By John Hallowell

Gracie Amici and Vicki Christensen run a delightful shop called “Tres Rios Silver” custom buckle business.

When you order a belt buckle from Tres Rios Silver in Llano, you know that you’re getting the “real thing.” Founder Vicki Christensen and her family are all lifelong rodeo participants — seeing, winning, wearing and now designing the very finest in trophy buckles.

Vicki grew up in Lane County, Oregon, where her father and uncle were well known as the “Christensen Brothers” –accomplished riders and ropers themselves, who became livestock contractors for rodeos all over the northwest. They supplied stock for decades to such noted rodeos as Ellensburg (WA) and the Pendleton Round-Up in eastern Oregon. They even supplied saddle broncs to the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas in 1959. Christensen Brothers became the largest independent family-owned stock contractor in the nation; both brothers were inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1989.

Vicki (and her cousin, Sherri) made a name for themselves as trick riders at an early age. “I trick-rode for a living for quite a while,” Vicki says, “and I didn’t want to lose contact with that way of life.” In the meantime, she had lived 17 years on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and had learned a lot about Indian jewelry. She decided to go into business designing custom silver buckles.

Vicki’s son, Brett Tatum, was a rodeo star at UNLV, and went on to become a professional bull rider for several years after college. He is now in charge of advertising and marketing for Tres Rios.

A Family Tradition

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Brett’s wife, Keylie, brings her own rodeo tradition to the family. Her father, Brad Herrera, is a former Colorado State High School Rodeo Association All-Around (and still a team roper); her mother, Lynn Herrera, is a former barrel racer. They ranch on 17 sections near Durango, Colorado. Keylie was a rodeo star in high school; she first met Brett at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. After graduating from high school in 2000, she attended Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona.

“I went to college to rodeo,” she admits, and twice qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in breakaway roping. She and Brett met again in the fall of her sophomore year, and they were married the following year. They have a five-year-old son named Pecos, who is already excited about ranching and rodeoing. Keylie still competes very successfully and was featured on the cover of “Rodeo News” last November.

The family (and their business) moved to Llano a little over two years ago, but they carry on with their ranching and rodeo tradition here. They have a business arrangement with race-horse breeders Micah and Leslie McKinney, of Reliance Ranches, in Llano; they take horses whose racing careers are over, and train them as barrel racers. “We work together, and rope every day,” Keylie says. “Pecos goes at it just like we do. He has big dreams of being a rancher some day.” So far, his rodeo activities consist mostly of dummy ropings and goat tying, but he’s well on his way to becoming a star like his parents.

Tres Rios has five people working in the office now, plus several outside sales people. That’s part of the reason that the family is looking to expand. They recently decided to move into a 4,000-square-foot building across from the Visitors Center in Llano’s historic Railyard, and Vicki is excited about the possibilities. “We’ll each have our own office there, and we’ll have a whole lot more room for displays.”

Despite the family’s varied geographical background, Vicki emphasizes that “Llano is home,” pointing out that Llano has a strong rodeo tradition and a close-knit community. “We love Llano, and we want to be part of the good things that are happening here.” She is proud of personal relationships with customers. Regarding buckles, she says, “Our goal is to provide a beautiful buckle of silver & gold plate, that is entirely built by hand to ensure the highest quality found in the industry.”

To learn more about this unique Llano businesses, visit online at