If there ever is a contest for the best Houston rodeo love story, Heights residents Dominic and Jena Casey are going to be major contenders.
Their tale began at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s barbecue cook-off tent in 2012. Dominic had been a volunteer on a BBQ team for a few years and Jena had just started. They’d both gone to school at Sam Houston State University at separate times, and a mutual friend encouraged Jena to join the fun.
“I said, ‘If I’m going to meet somebody, it’s going to happen at the rodeo,’ ” Jena recalled.
That turned out to be a prophetic statement as Dominic and Jena indeed hit it off, spending the three-day cook-off getting to know each other.
“I immediately asked her out,” Dominic said.
As he also volunteered on the Gatekeepers Committee, Dominic was able to invite her as a guest to the rodeo.
“When we started dating, we went to the rodeo almost every single night,” he said.
A year later they were still going strong – so strong that unbeknownst to Jena, Dominic was ready to take things to the next level.
He squeezed in his required number of shifts at the BBQ tent and came back on Saturday evening wearing a blazer. In his pocket was a ring. And while Dominic was doing his best to play it cool, he wasn’t entirely successful.
“He was acting really weird,” Jena said, thinking that perhaps Dominic was mad at her. “He would run away, (like) he was dodging me.”
Even when he got up to speak, Jena thought they had asked him to say the prayer.
“I was thinking, ‘I didn’t know he was a public speaker,’” she said.
“I proposed a year to the day (we met) in front of 200 people,” Dominic said.
“He had a ring in one hand and a beer in the other,” Jena recalled.
She said yes.
As Jena was part of the clean-up crew that night, she was wearing jeans with garbage on them during the proposal.
“She joked that she had trash juice on her hands when I put the ring on,” Dominic said.
Seven years later, the rodeo is still a tradition for the two.
“We call the rodeo our marriage counseling,” Jena joked. “Every year we run into the people who were there that night.”
For a time, Jena joined her husband on the Gatekeepers Committee.
“It is one of the biggest committees,” Dominic said. “We are first ambassadors of the rodeo.”
But now that the couple are parents to two children, ages 2 and 4, they needed to switch things up a bit.
“It was hard having the same schedule,” Jena said.
Jena is currently on the Souvenir Program Sales committee and has enjoyed widening her circle of rodeo friends.
For the cook-off, though, they still get a babysitter to be able to attend together as they’ve done every year. That includes one year that Jena was pregnant and didn’t think she could manage the evening.
“He had me meet him at a medical supply store,” Jena said. “He rented a motorized scooter so I could go. (He) said he wouldn’t go without me.”
Their kids tag along, too, for other rodeo happenings. One day, they’ll hear how the rodeo shaped their family.
“It’s fun to relive the meeting, [and] do the same things we do every year,” Jena said. “It’s a community. You are part of something.”