The Family Business

The Family Business

Travis Sullivan is proof that Dolly Parton’s Stampede is another family-friendly Branson business. His uncle was a trick rider for the attraction. His aunt works in marketing, his grandmother in the front office. He grew up around the Stampede, spending time watching his uncle perform and learning to trick rope with his cousins. It’s where he met his wife, Charly. And they’re already working on the next generation. Their baby Breken has loved horses since he was a couple of months old.

“They’re a very tight family,” confirms John Richardson, a spokesman for the Stampede, also pointing out it’s not “Dixie Stampede” anymore. “They spend a lot of time together.”

It doesn’t hurt that Charly and Travis have a fairy tale love story of their own. He came to the Stampede as a “ground tech,” meaning it was his job to move the props, open the doors for the riders and horses to enter and generally keep the show running smoothly. “She was a performer, and one day I went to open her door, and our eyes locked on to each other, and it kind of went from there,” he says, the grin evident in his voice. “I proposed to her in 2014. We got married in 2015. And we had our baby boy last July. It’s been amazing.”

Sullivan also loves his work. He’s moved up to performing himself and is riding in a new act this spring called “the cowboy joust.” He and other riders compete to ride a pattern, pop balloons mounted along the way and win the race.

“It’s fun for the audience and for us as well,” he says.

The horses don’t mind running the patterns and have been known to continue even if a rider falls off, Richardson says. The only concern for them in the new act was the sound of the popping balloons. “And that just takes desensitizing them,” Sullivan says. “You just have to show them it’s nothing that will hurt them.

“They have a lot of trust in us — and we have to have a lot of trust in them to make sure we do what we need to do and nobody gets hurt.”

Sullivan talks about each of his horses — he rides three, Dallas, Jack and Blast — with the same pride he infuses in the conversation about family. However, Amy, he says, is the grand dame of the Stampede, a longtime veteran of the show and the one that loves the attention the most. Richardson steps in to the conversation to assure that the horses wind up going to good homes when they retire. “They’re still representing the Stampede, wherever they are.”

As are the humans involved in the show, he adds. During peak season, the Stampede boasts 250 employees from performers to administrators to kitchen staff, along with 32 horses in the show and others on site for training. Like Sullivan, the operations manager started as a young rider and “moved up the ladder to run the whole place.”

“He cares deeply about the show,” Richardson says.

“You can do anything you want in life, as long as you have the heart and motivation,” Sullivan adds. “I’ve known people who thought I wouldn’t be able to be where I am, and I’ve been able to prove those people wrong and then some.”


Dolly Parton’s Stampede

Dinner Attraction

WHEN — 5:30 & 8 p.m. daily with 3 p.m. matinees on select dates

WHERE — 1525 W. 76 Country Blvd. in Branson

COST — $24.99-$44.99

INFO — 417-336-3000

FYI — Spokesman John Richardson recommends early reservations.

Categories: Entertainment, Theater