Caden Skinner, 12, and Rayha Richert, 15, both of Reedsburg, have big dreams to continue their rodeo careers.
Skinner and Richert are a part of the newly formed Sauk County Rodeo Club that consists of 13 members from ages 6 through 18, as well as adults from Lyndon Station, La Valle, and Reedsburg. They compete in events like bull riding and team roping.
Throughout the summer, they are traveling to rodeos held throughout the state and around the country held through the Little Britches of Wisconsin Rodeo Organization and the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association. Skinner recently returned from the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in South Dakota. Richert has plans to compete at Sauk County Fair July 12 and qualified for National High School Rodeo Finals in goat tying July 15-21 in Wyoming.
Like their parents, both Skinner and Richert hope to continue their careers on the professional rodeo circuit when they get older. However, like any other athlete, the road to success does not come overnight.
Rodeos can be a multi-generational family affair.
Skinner is the third generation in his family to take up rodeos while Richert is the second, along with their siblings. Their fathers, Travis Skinner and Ryan Richert, are a part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and have done shows together for a number of years. They serve as president and vice president of the Sauk County Rodeo Club, which formed last year to help promote and grow the sport in the county.
It is a similar story for 29-year-old Dakota Locken of Elroy, who said his uncle competed in professional steer wrestling, advancing to the Great Lakes Circuit Rodeo Finals. Casey Merrill, 32, said her first show was at 3-years-old, and she started barrel racing at 5. The tradition has been in the family for generations, and her children, who range from ages 3 through 12, are interested in taking up the rodeo life.
Rayha Richert said her father will give her advice not only on how to improve their technique with her events, but also help with the mental side of competition.
“If you get in your head you can make little mistakes,” she said.
Rodeo shows involve bucking horses and bulls, barrel racing and calf roping, as well as an all-around event that requires a lot of practice, commitment and, at times, financial investment.
Locken said he will train at different outdoor areas in Reedsburg and Lyndon Station, while the Richert’s have an arena at their house so they can prepare for competitions. The Skinner’s have an indoor facility next to their home in Reedsburg which allows them to practice in the winter and if it rains in the spring. While they will sometimes have to compete in the rain if there isn’t lighting, Caden Skinner said having a facility to practice in a dry environment helps them improve on their technique year round.
Because most rodeos take place on weekends, Locken said he tries to practice early in the week to improve his technique in calf roping, his main event. Merrill trains all of her horses for competitions and conducts off-site training for other young contestants and their horses in events like pole bending and barrel racing.
Balancing training time with work, social life, and school work can be a challenge. Injuries are also common in rodeos. Locken said he had a concussion while bull riding and a fractured fibula while stepping off of a horse.
Travis Skinner said the challenge is finding the right horse and training them to become familiar with the multiple events in rodeos. Like any other athlete, horses have to be taken care of and properly trained for shows.
“Some young horses you have to ride everyday and practice every day on them, so you can keep them sharp, because they are learning,” Travis Skinner said.
Individual technique is also important. The Skinner’s said they use practice dummies and do “on the ground work” without horses to create more of a controlled environment to help with their form in the timed events.
Locken has won multiple state championships and was on two national championship teams through the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association, even attending college on a rodeo scholarship in Missouri. After that, he took a break from rodeos to focus on life and is now in his first year as a professional in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association.
Locken has traveled to Tennessee and Iowa for shows, among other areas along the Great Lake Circuit, one of twelve national circuits in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. He plans to compete at the Juneau County Fair at the Three Hills Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo in Aug. While he said most components carry over from when he competed in rodeos in his youth, there are still some things he’s leaning at the professional level.
According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association website, contestants must turn 18-years-old and and earn at least a $1,000 in prize money before they can obtain a contest card to officially become a professional. The amount given in prize money is different from each show.
Locken said he would compete in much bigger shows with veteran contestants when he first started at the professional level, but has since scaled back to fill his permit before he can purchase his card to become a professional. After he obtains professional status, he plans to make a run for Rookie of the Year.
Locken said that even though he works full-time, he’s trying to reach out to different companies to obtain a sponsorship to help with expenses, but being new in the professional world makes it difficult.
With the success he had in his younger years, Locken said there is always pressure to perform.
“I know the capability is there, I know the talent is there,” Locken said. “I’m getting back into it, so you want to win to justify having it, but at the same time you want it to be fun.”
Merrill has since taken a step back from the professional world because one of her horses sustained an injury. She has since moved on to going to local “fun shows” that are typically less competitive and less expensive to enter.
She is also trying to bring the joy back into rodeos and to show others that winning isn’t always as important as it seems. She said after many years of going to rodeos every weekend, practicing, and deciding what’s best for the horses as well as the mental pressure to perform and other competitive aspects, she is burnt out.
She has plans to get back to the professional world later this year, but is waiting to obtain her own farm for her horses. She is currently renting a facility in Portage to keep and train them.
While the road isn’t easy, Rayha Richert said she can’t imagine not being in rodeos.
For Locken, it is “the love of the game” keeps him in the show.
“There’s nothing like having a bang out run where 10,000 people in the stands go wild and everybody is watching you,” he said.