Association MemberJoin Rodeo News
Meet the Member Riley Donnelly
story by Lily Landreth
Riley Donnelly is a seven-event cowgirl in the SDHSRA, competing in all of the girls events including cutting and reined cow horse. Of all her events, poles and breakaway are her favorites, and the 18-year-old from Elk Point, South Dakota, has qualified for Nationals every year since she was a sixth-grader at the NJHFR. “I’ve made it to Nationals every year in poles, except once, and in high school it’s consisted of poles and breakaway,” Riley explains. “Poles are definitely my favorite because I have a really good pole horse that I’ve been riding for about nine years, and he’s the horse I learned to ride on. Breakaway is also close to the top because we have a really good breakaway horse, and the fast events are fun to compete in.”
In February, Riley will represent the SDHSRA East River Region at the 2020 20X Extreme Showcase Rodeo in Rapid City. This will be her third time competing in the Showcase in pole bending, and she also looks forward to state finals every year. “It’s been in Belle Fourche but now it’ll be in Fort Pierre, and state is really exciting because all the regions combine and you get to see everyone you know. It’s bigger competition and there’s more people to compete with,” she says.
Following after her Uncle Chuck and Aunt Kim, Riley is the second generation of her family to rodeo. She grew up around horses and started rodeoing when she was 8 or 9. Her older sister, Payton Donnelly, and their cousin Jill Donnelly also competed in the SDHSRA, and both college rodeo now. Payton competes on the University of Wyoming rodeo team, and when she and Jill come home on break, the three cowgirls congregate in the practice pen to run chutes and hold goats for one another. “My dad has done a lot for me, and when we were younger he was always coaching us and showing us new things,” Riley adds. “I use Bill Curry’s reining and cutting horse, and he comes down and helps me with that.” She also ropes with her team roping partner Shane Anderson, a heeler, who has been with her since Riley’s freshman year.
“I love rodeo so much, and I love riding my horses every single day. It’s very competitive, and it’s really cool at rodeos when a friend does good to see people congratulate them. You can have a good day or a bad day, but if you’re consistent, that’s awesome.” Consistency is also key in the practice pen, and during rodeo season, Riley practices daily, dividing her seven events throughout the week. “Once school starts I’m involved in basketball, volleyball, and track, so the horses get a pretty good break.” Her pole horse is Clyde, a 14-year-old gelding she’s ridden the last 9 years. She breakaway ropes on Coco, team ropes and ties goats on Harvard, rides Susie in cutting, and Bill Curry’s mare Kitty in reined cow horse. Riley, Payton, and their dad trained their roping and pole horses. Riley often travels to rodeos with her dad and step-mom, Cory and Jamie Donnelly, her younger sisters Brooklyn and Ashlyn, and on occasion her Grandma Donnelly. Her mom and step-dad, Heather and Randy Erickson, come to some of her rodeos as well.
A senior at Elk Point Jefferson High School, Riley takes several classes at her school and does the rest online. “I really like art class, and human anatomy because it’s very interesting.” She is in the National Honor Society and her volleyball team made it to state this season and placed seventh, while Riley is also looking at colleges and considering college rodeo. “This coming summer I’d really like to make it back to Nationals for the last year, and academically, I want to figure out a college and succeed in my grades.”