Hard Working Rodeo Club Students Find Competition and Community
A café, the library, their bedroom — all are classic study locations for college students.
Molly Gray made do with what she had.
“I did homework last night in my horse trailer after the day’s performance,” said Gray, a junior in elementary education.
On the last weekend of April 2023, Gray and the rest of the Vandal Rodeo Club packed up their horses, trailers and school work and traveled to Hermiston, Oregon, to compete in the Northwest Regional Standings rodeo as part of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). For the students, working time to rodeo around their classwork pays off with the excitement of the competition and belonging to a community.
“The hardest thing is balancing rodeo with school, but it has given me good time management skills and discipline with getting up and feeding your horses in the morning and making time for practice,” said Kayla Hurl, a junior in rangeland conservation. “In the end, it’s all worth it.”
Hurl, the club’s president, is working to expand the club, which has grown from three to roughly 20 members in two years. Practicing as a team can be challenging when the students house their horses in different locations. Depending on the weather, the team will use an outdoor arena in Troy or an indoor arena in Lewiston — adding travel time to their already full days.
“It’s definitely challenging, and, with classes, you’ve just got to work around your schedule,” said Kayla Hurl. “Sometimes I ride late at night or early in the morning.”
One sophomore majoring in agricultural economics with an agribusiness emphasis, Lauryn Riney, signed up for a lot of online classes and structured her in-person classes so she could spend large amounts of time training and traveling.
“I don’t have much time for anything else besides going to the barn and going to school but those are my priorities,” said Layla Knight, a political science sophomore. “Because you’d rather be here than anywhere else.”
Many of the club members participated at the high school level and joined the team to continue competing. As part of the NIRA Northwest region, a student can compete against other colleges in rodeos during the fall and spring. Women can compete in team roping, breakaway roping, barrel racing and goat tying while men can enter team roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping and steer wrestling.
“We’re a small team so it feels like a community, and I have already made some lifelong friends through rodeo.”
— Katelyn Hurl, sophomore
“Rodeoing has a competitive aspect that you don’t get just trail riding,” said Syrinda St. Onge, a senior in animal and veterinary science: dairy option. “In rodeoing you have something to work toward.”
For Knight and some of the other students, getting on their horses is a way of relaxing — their version of stress release.
“I was up here for four months without my horse and that sucked,” Gray said. “Riding is my outlet. That’s my break in the day. Even though it’s work — it’s still fun.”
Kayla Hurl says the team relishes being together, whether they are chatting over their horses’ heads during practice or between events at a rodeo.
“My favorite part of competing in rodeo is the friendships I make,” said Katelyn Hurl, a sophomore in animal and veterinary science: business option. “We’re a small team so it feels like a community, and I have already made some lifelong friends through rodeo.”
For many, the community also keeps them coming back, said Ryson Sweeney, a senior in agricultural economics: agribusiness emphasis and a second-generation bull rider.
“They will give you the shirt off their back without even knowing you. It is one giant family that is very accepting,” Sweeney said. “As far as our team, the first time I talked with them, it was for over an hour. We’re all really close — traveling around together.”
The club encourages anyone with a history of rodeoing and their own horses to join the group. They are working to expand club membership, purchase apparel and fundraise. The team hopes to find enough funding to host a rodeo, something U of I has done in the past.
“Rodeo is my whole life and everything centers around that,” Katelyn Hurl said. “I bring that to school every day.”