Cally Thomas has high hopes of holding on to her barrel racing title at the 57th annual K-State Rodeo this weekend.
Thomas and her horse Bugeta took first place at their first K-State Rodeo last year with a time of 12.49 seconds in barrel racing. They are competing together again this year to try to defend their title at the rodeo.
“Since this is a hometown rodeo there is a lot of extra pressure, especially since I did so well last year,” said Thomas, a 22-year-old senior at K-State. “12.49 was a good time. Weber is a smaller arena, so most times are 14s, 15s and 16s; it is rare to have an arena this small and have a time that fast.”
Bugeta loves to run, especially when there is a crowd to get her fired up, Thomas said.
In addition to barrel racing, Thomas also competes in breakaway roping – the women’s equivalent of calf roping – where a calf runs out of the shoot and the rider has to lasso it but does not tie the calf’s legs together. She received a 2.8 in Saturday morning’s breakaway competition but was penalized 10 seconds for breaking out of the box too early; because of the 10-second penalization making her score a 12.8, she doesn’t think she will place in Sunday’s finals.
Thomas grew up on a farm that raised horses and took an interest in animals and the rodeo at a young age. Her first competition was at the age of 8.
“My grandpa was really involved in rodeos,” Thomas said. “We used to go to rodeos every single weekend – Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”
She was also in 4-H throughout high school in South Dakota and participated in countless competitions. She spent her first two years of college at South Dakota State, transferring to K-State her junior year to be a part of the animal science program and livestock judging team.
A large part of what makes the sport so special for her is the bond she’s been able to build with other students who share the love of rodeo.
“For me it’s a lot about the people you get to hang out with and the family we’ve become; rodeoing takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Thomas said.
The K-State Rodeo Club has many members but only 10 of them compete against 14 other schools during the year in the Central Plains Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. By the end of the 2012-13 school year, the association will have hosted 10 rodeos for schools in the central plains.
In order to participate in the Rodeo Club, each student must have his or her own horse. Recently, K-State opened the Equine Center, making it easier for students to house their animals during the semester.
“I have to exercise my horses every day and take them to the arena a couple times a week to work on barrels to keep them performing good,” Thomas said. “Every day the club is not at a rodeo there is someone on the team practicing… most of us practice every day plus take care of our horses.”
Calves are also brought in six or seven days a week for roping practice to make sure the K-State rodeo competitors are on top of their game.
Each of the rodeos takes place in differently sized indoor or outdoor arena, which makes practicing frequently and in different elements crucial to being successful during competitions. Since Weber Arena is relatively small, practicing and competing can be a challenge.
“Some of us have different horses for indoor and outdoor competitions,” Thomas said. “If you’re in a big outdoor arena you have to have a fast horse, but in an indoor arena you need one that won’t tip over the barrels.”
According to Thomas, the K-State rodeo draws the biggest crowd within the Central Plains and has been voted rodeo of the year numerous times.
“Besides football games and the men’s basketball games, our rodeo draws the largest attendance for a single-night performance,” Thomas said.
Although rodeo is a thrilling and competitive sport, it is also a very expensive one. Thomas estimates having to pay $700 per horse per semester to have them on campus which includes their stalls, feed, vet bills, hay and getting them shoed frequently. That total doesn’t take into account entry fees and fuel for all of the competitions. But she said she wouldn’t trade the sport for having a little more cash in her pocket.
Thomas, who has four horses, knows the importance of having a good connection with her animals, especially when they’re on the road.
“It’s really important to know the horse; if you have a good bond you’ll know if they’re not feeling good or are in pain,” Thomas said. “The more you take care of them, the more they take care of you.”