I used to spend all my time dreaming of moving to Texas. I remember listening to red dirt country on my way to high school, dreaming of joining a college rodeo team in a place that understood me infinitely better than those I found myself surrounded with. I had dreams of taking my rodeo career all the way – I wanted to see myself running down the Thomas & Mack, but how could I? I was from Iowa. No, not Idaho, not Ohio. We’re known for corn and pork, not potatoes – don’t get it confused. I remember feeling like I was an invisible outsider in a world full of Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming dreams.
I remember telling Marshall I was moving to Texas, with or without him. Then he told me something that pierced my heart, hard.
“Nothing is magically going to change by moving away. Why can’t you be yourself here?”
Ouch. My pride was so deflated, hearing someone ask me the question I’ve avoided with conversation about huge indoor arenas and riding year round. I’d done so well here, why did I have to leave to be who I wanted to be? The truth was, I couldn’t afford out of state tuition. I was going to be swimming in debt by the time I graduated, just to pursue rodeo. I broke down and decided to attend Iowa State, a school with basically no rodeo program, but was completely covered financially. Plus, my dad was pumped I was going to his alma mater.
Little did I know, this disappointment would eventually give me the gift of grit, persistence and show me the power of pursuing your passion with your whole heart.
I pulled up to my first college rodeo in my own rig, on my own dime. I watched other teams pull their horses out of team trailers, each of the top competitors with a travel budget. I spent 400 dollars to get to this rodeo, hauling my one barrel horse in a 1990 five horse living quarters rig. I was the only person on our team for a full semester before others slowly started trickling in over time to eventually form a twelve person team my senior year.
I’ll never forget the look on my college advisor’s face when I told him I wanted to look in rodeo. This man didn’t know a rodeo from a circus – I might as well have told him I wanted to major in carney skills. He told me he had no resources to help me land the internships and work studies, and I would be pursuing all of my experience on my own. I told him that was fine and quietly had a mental breakdown about how I was going to find an internship by the time I graduated.
My first work study was at the Junior High School Rodeo Finals in Des Moines. I asked advice from so many people about getting into the industry and they all told me the same thing – it’s hard to get in. There’s lots of students in Texas who already have the connections. You’re going to have to knock on a lot of doors as a midwesterner. So I did, and I put on my full Iowa nice until I was put through to the right people.
I ended up having four internships before my senior year was over. I worked for stock contractors, rodeo organizations and eventually moved to Texas for a few months to work for a PRCA stock show and rodeo. My advisor never understood how I got those opportunities, or the hot mess I was the morning I ran in with a stack of paperwork telling him I’d be moving to Texas for a rodeo and I had to change my whole schedule around since I’d have to take classes at UT Austin for the semester.
In my last semester at Iowa State, I met this amazing professor who was very passionate about her students and her work. I remember telling her that while I loved working in rodeo production, I was unsure about moving my life somewhere for ONE rodeo. I wouldn’t be able to travel the circuit easily as a competitor or take trips with Marshall to my bucket list rodeos. She told me she thought I would be a fantastic blogger. I’d tried blogging a few times throughout college but couldn’t find something to write about over and over again. I ended up writing about western fashion and before I knew it, I had enough content started for a year of posts. I found a way to combine my passion with work, even if it looked different than I originally thought. Now I’ve got The Rodeo Mrs. blog to work on every day – what a blessing.
Let me sum these experiences up like this: I was an underdog. I know I wasn’t the only kid out there passionate about this industry who felt like they were invisible. Our industry doesn’t live in one place. We hear about the western hubs of the country, but I know so many people humbling doing it the hard way, every season here in the heartland. You might have to work harder to stand next to those who live next door to rodeo legends, but you deserve your place. You can fly your flag with pride because it’s yours: it’s your story, your heritage, your upbringing.
No matter where life takes us in this country, or world, you’ll never hear me talk down about the place that brought me up again. I found solid ground on the soil I used to curse. I’ve found my truth of authentic, humble work mirrored in my neighbors I thought never understood. I’ve learned humility as an underdog and pride in overcoming assumptions about my home. I learned to persist, to fight and to live for the things God placed in my heart to pursue. So here’s to my Iowa kids trying to find a practice pen not covered in ice, or my midwestern fashionistas shooting outfit photos in a corn field – I see you, and I believe in you.