Established in 1963 by faculty member David Stafford, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls competitive rodeo team and club combines the love for horses and the sport of rodeo with community outreach to preserve Western heritage.
Competing against 12 other schools in the Great Plains region (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin) throughout the year, athletes showcase their skills at an individual level for the benefit of the whole team. At the end of the season, the top three in each region (11 total regions) qualify for college nationals in June in Casper, Wyo.
With lofty goals, comes the need for proper training and facilities to achieve them. Home to an indoor and outdoor facility (equipped with stalls and stables) on campus, coaches Matt and Lacy Dunsmore say that it is their duty to continue to provide these athletes with proper equipment to ensure good, safe practice to set them up for success come competition.
What sets this sport apart from others is the degree of responsibility held by each athlete for themselves and for the health and stability of their animals.
“My favorite part of the sport is the family, the camaraderie but also the kinship that you get from competing with an animal,” Matt says. “That horse is like your world; it is yours and it is your partner. You take the best possible care of them, you exercise them. They are their own athlete.”
Only practicing as a team once a week (and meeting twice a month as a club), some athletes have to dedicate extra time to perfect their individual events and improve their physical fitness. For team members like senior Hannah Bergstrom, the schedule as a student athlete who also balances an internship and work can be tough. However, she says it all comes down to the experiences you gain, and the relationships created with the people and horses you care about most. “If it is something that you want to do, you just make time for it,” Bergstrom says.
Despite the unconventional 2020 season, Lacy says that the team still accomplished a lot of their goals and even had one of their athletes, Eric Wuthrich, qualify for nationals in bareback riding.
As for the future, Matt and Lacy hope the program continues to excel at a competitive level all while maintaining the teams’ positive reputation in the community.