“This is a real cowgirl.”
“She’s an all-around hand from get go.”
Like in all sports and professions, people come in all levels of abilities and unique aspects, yet few excel in more than one or two areas.
Shelby Leonhard of Okaloosa is the exception without rebuttal.
First verification comes when Leonhard was named the all-around winner in the women’s division at the recent K-State Rodeo in Manhattan.
That’s because Leonhard won the goat tying event and ranked high in breakaway calf roping and barrel racing, as well. Many cowgirls only compete in one or two events; there’s quite a difference from one to the next.
The story becomes deeper and truer. Cowboys work cattle, at least in their beginning; thus cowgirls work cattle. Always liking to be horseback, but before excelling to present extent in the rodeo arena, Leonhard was showing cattle competitively around the Midwest, from the age of seven through her high school years.
Winning at rodeos requires horse power. Money can often buy horses that will win regardless who is on their back. Leonhard generally trains her own horses, that’s the cowgirl way. Yet, true to her direct cowgirl philosophy, she’ll “buy a winner, too, if the occasion arises.”
Real cowboys have lots of heart; real cowgirls in completely non-chauvinistic description have even a lot more heart. Shelby Leonhard’s most obvious proof of “cowgirl heart” comes in that although a major rodeo injury took her off the trail for many months, she’s back with vengeance collecting rodeo loudspeaker accolades whichever arena she’s in.
It was Thursday afternoon, “I’m on my way to Garden City, for the rodeo. The connections aren’t too good; maybe you can call me after I get my horses exercised and bedded down.” That was just days after her home college rodeo win, but cowgirls are hard to slow down.
The next Thursday afternoon: “I’m on my way to the Fort Scott rodeo, we can talk now.” Phone connections went dead, and numerous attempts to “tie down” the champion failed, until persistency “trapped her” Friday afternoon: “I’m winning the long-go in breakaway. I don’t tie goats until the matinee Saturday. I have plenty of time to talk now.”
“I grew up on a small Jefferson County farm. We have a cow-calf operation. My brother didn’t really care for horses, but they’ve been my thing along with showing cattle,” Leonhard gave her own beginning autobiography.
Just 20-years-old, Shelby Leonhard is the daughter of John and Sarah Leonhard. John competed in ranch rodeos and does some team roping, while Sarah barrel races.
“I showed cattle during grade school through high school, and also competed in some jackpots and other saddle club and rodeo activities. But when I got a little older, and entered high school, I realized rodeo was really what I wanted to do, even though I was supposed to be showing cattle,” said Leonhard, adding: “My cattle roots are still there.”
Going full force at rodeos all four years while attending Oskaloosa High School, Leonhard qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals her senior year. “I was first in goat tying,” she reflected.
Credentials rated Leonhard a rodeo scholarship to attend Garden City Community College, where as a women’s team member she qualified for the National College Rodeo Finals, in Casper Wyoming.
“I was having a good rodeo at Casper, and then blew my knee out in the goat tying. That put a stop to my rodeo career at Garden City,” Leonhard admitted.
Completing her education at the two-year college, Leonhard followed doctor’s orders, after stringent medical attention to her severe injury. “Following surgery and rehabilitation, I focused on getting ready to compete for the K-State Rodeo Team. I came to Manhattan last fall to get my redemption, I was back to my old self after being off the college rodeo circuit for a year,” Leonhard clarified.
Obviously, she’s getting it done. Placing sixth in goat tying last fall at the Central Plains Region National Intercollegiate Rodeo hosted by Northwestern Oklahoma State in Alva, Leonhard rested, reflected and followed guided practice efforts during dead of winter to be ready for the kickoff competition at her home college rodeo.
“I work with the sports trainer and have been conscientious in my rehabilitation and therapy, so my knee injury has not been giving me problems unless I get careless. I wear a knee brace and don’t overdo it when I’ve getting off my horse in goat tying, or anytime I’m practicing,” Leonhard assured.
At K-State, Leonhard won first place in goat tying and competed successfully in breakaway roping and barrel racing, en route to being crowned the all-around cowgirl at her home college rodeo. She was 6.2 seconds in the long-go-round, and had a 6.4 seconds run in the short-go-round finals, to win the goat tying average in 12.6 seconds, worth $382.20, and 145 NIRA points.
K-State Rodeo Team Coach Doug Muller recognized, “Shelby is truly an all- around cowgirl, who is tough in all three of her events, and can win every one of them in any given day. She is eighth in the region in goat tying at the present time. We’re extremely proud of her.”
As obvious to anyone in any sport, practice and dedication are required for such achievement, but in rodeo it requires more: the right horse. And, in events such as goat tying and breakaway roping, there’s the third element, a goat and a calf.
“In regard to the goats and calves, quite frankly, you really have the least influence on them. But, it’s essential to watch the stock and riders that go before you to get a feel for how your run might materialize,” Leonhard acknowledged.
“I’m fortunate that my goat and breakaway roping horse called Mack is well seasoned, so he doesn’t require any tuning. It’s better not to bother him most of the time. I just keep him exercised and conditioned,” Leonhard recognized.
“Mack is a 13-year-old sorrel gelding that belongs to the Kelly Kirkham family at Valley Falls. He was a barrel horse, and then I started doing goats and breakaway on Mack, and he just took to it,” Leonhard credited.
In barrel racing, the cowgirl is presently riding a seven-year-old Paint mare called Flash. “She’s a ball of fire and still a little green, but Flash has really been making some good runs,” acknowledged Leonhard. “I just came up on her, too. The horse I was barrel racing just didn’t fit the sport, and I traded him for Flash. I work on patterning and training Flash a couple days of the week.”
Briefly concerning training, Leonhard said, “I’ve had some tough horses that I’ve had to train through the years, and they’ve generally turned out better. They’ve definitely taught me a lot, and improved my horsemanship, riding and training techniques.”
Conceding the importance of her mount, and that having the right one is difficult, Leonhard admitted: “I’ve had several horses, but I really have been fortunate to find horses that would work for me.”
Added to that advantage, Leonhard said, “I have a couple of good back-up horses at home, too. Mom has been taking them to jackpot barrel races and doing quite well. If I have to, I could ride them, but I sure don’t intend to, with Mom getting along so good on them.”
Concisely accessing horse value and acquisition, Leonhard said, “There are good horses in every price range. You can get a good one for two grand, or 25 times that. It’s not the price, but the horse, and the fit of the rider to that horse. Usually a proven horse in a specific environment will perform well for a new owner, if ridden in the same way, but change the environment, and the horse changes, too.”
Besides conditioning her horses, and following personal therapy guidelines, Leonhard is dedicated in her personal practice. “I rope the hay bale every day, sometimes for a long time. I have goats and practice on them every day, too. I work on my flanking the goats mostly, because that has always seemed to be a bit of my weakness. Still, I have to be careful not to overdo my practicing with my knee,” she said.
Looking to college rodeos this spring, “I’d like to make the college finals again, and it sure would be possible. I’m taking every rodeo and every run one at a time to see how it’ll all come out. Still my education comes first, I’m a junior now studying agriculture economics, and I’ve had to plan my classes and studying in order to be gone to rodeos almost every weekend,” Leonhard said.
Rodeo is in her future, too, but Leonhard is hoping to get a summer internship working for a purebred cattle organization. “We’ll see if that materializes. I hope it will, but I’ll still be able to rodeo. I have friends and family who will be able to haul my horses for weekend rodeos. I plan to compete in the United Rodeo Association competitions, along with jackpots,” she said.
Intending to go full force on the college rodeo circuit next year, too, Leonhard again is looking to the national college finals as a climax to her college rodeo career.
Following college graduation a year from this spring, Leonhard said, “I hope to earn a position working for a purebred cattle organization, animal health group or feed company, but I’ll keep competing in rodeos on weekends. I might go to professional rodeos if everything comes together right.”
At the time of this writing, Leonhard was winning the breakaway roping with a 2.4 seconds run, and placing third in goat tying, after the long-go-round, at the college rodeo in Ft. Scott.