I’m not going to lie, I was a little sweaty with nerves right before dialing her up. Here is this total stranger who doesn’t know me from the next anonymous blogger and I’m asking her to help me see glimmers of what makes her tick, makes her drive and serves as such an inspiration for others. But just as she was accessible via Facebook, she was easy to talk to over the phone. Those neighbors to the North are always so delightful (she hails from Chilliwack, British Columbia).
If you are unfamiliar with Kaila, she is the only female saddle bronc rider to compete with men in the professional rodeo circuit since the 1940’s. And she isn’t just competing. She’s won rodeos and continues to win. She won her first rodeo in Prineville, Oregon in 2002. She’s still the only woman yet to earn her card in the PRCA.
But she doesn’t want people to remember her just for being a female bronc rider. Really, her bronc riding is only another adventure in her rich and daring life. She has spent time as a trick rider, a barrel racer and steer rider. To fit one of those things in a lifetime would be enough, but she’s done them all, and continued to up the ante. She admits she’s an adrenaline junky, it just so happens that saddle bronc riding has held her interest the longest, and she hasn’t reached the culmination of her dreams in her bronc riding. She knows there will have to be an end, the injuries and rides can’t go on forever, but she’s not ready to put that bronc saddle away just yet.
When asked about what success looks like for her she spoke about what it used to look like: winning. As a perfectionist she wanted to win, wanted to always have good goes and high scores. Even when she had good rides, she was always looking to the next ride and too critical of herself. In the last five years, which included a broken neck, her idea of success has shifted to be more compassionate toward herself. She takes progress over perfection, and reminds herself that only one third of the ride is in her control, the other two thirds are left to chance: the bronc she pulls and the judges scoring her ride.
So what about that broken neck? The injury happened at a rodeo where she landed on her head and rolled onto the right side of her neck. She walked out of the arena. But at one of her brother’s advice (who is a physician) she made an appointment to get it checked out, by chance at Vancouver General Hospital, the only spinal unit available in all of British Columbia. She fractured her C6 vertebrae in 2 places. She opted to wait and see if the fracture would heal on its own, having already endured other surgeries. It didn’t and her neck was rotating down and forward. She had to have surgery. That was in April of 2014. In October of that year she was released by her physician to do “normal” things. She wasn’t thinking about bronc riding, but horses are a big part of her life and she inquired if “normal” included riding. She got the go ahead, and before long she was wondering about getting back in the bronc saddle. Which she did do, returning to the sport in April of 2015, twelve months after the original injury.
Are you shaking your head and marveling? Yeah, so did other people. Some members of her family even told her she was stupid to go back to the sport. But Kaila doesn’t live her life according to the expectations of others (if you hadn’t gathered that already). She wasn’t done bronc riding and if she was going to quit riding, she wanted to go out on her own terms. And she won’t be giving it up anytime soon, recently winning at the Indian Nationals Finals Rodeo in Morley, Alberta, taking home a buckle and a new bronc saddle. The buckle and saddle she won were put up by the stock contractor in memory of his daughter. The rodeo elders felt that it was fate that she, as a woman, had won the bronc riding. It’s hard to disagree.
So what does someone who has done so much, in the arena and out, have left to fear? You might be surprised to hear she’s just like everyone else and has her doubts about what she’s doing. She worries about not doing well, not performing well, and even the occasional feeling that she isn’t good enough or deserving of participating in the sport. Especially after her neck injury she struggled with depression and anxiety. She put the time into herself and sought counseling, learning to focus on the now, how not to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed. She learned to just take a deep breath, take stock of what she’s accomplished so far, and just keep going. She lets the past go and focuses on the now.
This is striking to me. I’m not in the rodeo arena risking life and limb to compete, but I am putting myself out there for viewing and appreciation (or judgement) and it can feel intimidating at times. It’s remarkable that worry and anxiety and self-doubt are universal experiences. What a gift for all of us to hear that Kaila struggles with the same challenges and that it’s important to just focus on the now. If it’s fun, if you’re passionate about it, whatever it is, why stop?
I asked Kaila what she thought life looked like for her when the time comes to give up saddle bronc riding. She chuckled and said she’d probably still ride a little, still competing, as long as she can still ride, she’ll keep riding. She wants to continue her work as an equine therapist, perhaps adding more motivational speaking engagements and rodeo school clinics. She’s already doing the speaking engagements and rodeo schools, as her schedule allows, but hopes she can further pursue those interests. I think she has a promising future in both. Her spirit, her drive, her dedication to living her own authentic life, lend themselves well to inspiring others to do the same.
And if you’re lucky enough to have her at a rodeo near you, time permitting, you might even be able to hire her to do some therapy or chiropractic work on your horses. I know I’ll be following her career and look forward what the next 10 years hold for this bold woman. You can follow her journey on Facebook here
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