story by Linsday Humphrey Making the decision to commit to rodeo as a high school sophomore has forever changed Rylan Wildeman’s life for the better. […]
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Meet the Member Vanessa Steven
story by Lindsay Humphrey
Born with tennis racket in hand, Vanessa Steven could be considered the black sheep of the family after finding her way to rodeo as a freshman in high school. “We’re a big tennis family, everybody in my entire family plays. I played until sophomore year after my team won state,” said the Wichita, Kansas, barrel racer and pole bender. Vanessa rode for the first time when she was 10 years old at a horse camp with her older sisters–Breckyn, 22, and Brittany, 19. “I just fell in love with it. My parents got me a horse when I was 12 and he used to be a camp horse. Then my best friend–Chloe Augustine–started going to junior rodeos and I went with her.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Competing on her “fun show horse” at jackpots and junior rodeos made Vanessa and her parents–Rodney and Juliette–realize it was time for a step-up horse and his name is Roo. That new horse was there for Vanessa’s first KHSRA event as a freshman. The pair clicked quickly, and it didn’t take long for their names to start showing up in the ribbons. “The first year I owned him, we did really well. We placed in a lot of the junior rodeos and jackpots.” After that successful season, Vanessa discovered Roo had ulcers and some other stomach problems. Vanessa gave him three months off to recover.
“When we came back from that break, everything kind of flew out the wind. Our timing was off and I was trying to figure out what worked best for us.” After a rocky fall season, Vanessa spent the winter months fine tuning the clover leaf pattern. Her goal for the spring? “I want to come out strong in the spring and just do our best. I just want it to be a solid season.” Despite these issues, Vanessa has made state finals for the past two years and is planning on a third trip. She competed in the short go of the barrels last summer and ended the season in 15th spot amongst a competitive field.
Like most rodeo athletes, Vanessa is backed by a support system that extends beyond her immediate family. “The Augustine family have been a rock for me through all of this. They’ve hauled me to so many barrel races and rodeos, and they’ve been there for anything that comes up. As well as my family who have endlessly supported me on this road that we knew nothing about.” That includes Vanessa’s other three siblings–Rodney III, 21, Rock, 12, and ten-year-old Berkley. “My family comes to as many rodeos as they can but it can be hard to get everyone rounded up to drive several hours across the whole state.”
When Vanessa’s family is supporting her from home, the KHSRA fills in for them. “Many of the people I’ve met have become some of my best friends. It’s a really good atmosphere to be in and the high school rodeo family is a good one to be a part of.” Just like most other rodeo associations, the KHSRA lends itself to building a community among competitors. “It’s so fun getting to compete against everyone because we’re always there for each other and cheering each other on and it’s a great environment that we create for each other.”
As Vanessa prepares for her final high school rodeo season, she’s also busy making plans for post-graduation from Bishop Carol High school in May. Currently, she’s bound for Laramie, Wyoming, and the University of Wyoming. “I’m really excited to get into animal nutrition because I think it will be neat to apply to my horses and their feed program.” Vanessa will also be competing for the Cowboy’s rodeo team. She’s fairly certain rodeo has completely changed the trajectory of her life. Amy Prather initially helped Vanessa get started while Karey Burton and her daughter, Payton, have helped keep her going in the last few months. “I’ve learned the hard way to ask for help and that everyone has something to offer.”