A look inside the life of SIU’s sole rodeo competitor

By Ashlyn Ege, Staff Reporter

Football, basketball and more recently, women’s soccer are the sports typically associated with Saluki athletics. Senior Kaitlin McWhorter represents the Salukis in a different arena as the university’s sole rodeo competitor.

She competes in three events including barrel racing, calf roping and goat tying. 

Recently, Kaitlin has competed over the past three weekends in Missouri and Alabama. 

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At the rodeo in Livingston, Alabama, she placed in the top 20 in goat tying. At the Sikeston rodeo in Missouri, she placed top 10 in goat tying, long round, short round and average. Kaitlin said “you can win or lose by just a hair of a second,” so every second counts.

Thanks to Kaitlin’s success at the past couple rodeos, she was able to gain points for SIU, said Kim McWhorter, Kaitlin’s mom. 

“[She] ended up sixth in the short round and seventh in the average overall out of all the goat tiers for her college region, so she got points for SIU,” Kim said.

Marty Wolfe, Kaitlin’s grandmother, said Kaitlin’s mom rode horses when she was a young girl but never competed in rodeo.

 “That’s the one thing Kaitlin did — she started around the age of 5 and started doing pleasure showing,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said Illinois doesn’t have a lot of rodeo opportunities, so Kaitlin was involved in American Family Rodeo Association and Little Britches Rodeo Association. Through these, she was able to compete in the finals in Oklahoma and Colorado.

Wolfe said there are not many people who share the same passion for rodeo, making it that much more competitive. 

Kaitlin has been competitive since she was 4 years old. Wolfe said Kaitlin has always been competitive, even in kindergarten when it came to reading.

“I remember that the goal was to read a hundred books — oh she had to reach that goal,” Wolfe said.

Since rodeo is an individual sport, practicing is on your own time, Kim said.

“When she was eight or nine or 10  she’d get up in the morning and practice,” Kim said.

There were times in the winter they would drive to Marion and practice riding at night when it was 28 degrees out, Kim said. 

As far as who coaches Kaitlin, her parents have always been the ones to coach her and teach her.

“My parents have always coached me. Just on their own. We went to clinics and things when I was a lot smaller but they just do a lot of research online and try to help me,” Kaitlin said.

Kim said they took Kaitlin to several clinics for barrel racing, goat tying and break away when she was younger so she could keep practicing and improving.

There is a lot of time dedicated to competing in rodeos; Kaitlin and her family has missed holidays just to drive and compete in competitions across the nation.

“I’ve spent a lot of Thanksgivings that we left early so that we could drive to a rodeo. I’ve spent Christmas afternoon at a barn practicing,” Kim said. “When she graduated from high school she missed her party because we drove to Alabama to a Little Britches rodeo because she was going to try and win the saddle.”   

When it comes to preparing for competitions Kaitlin said it is more than just practice but a lifestyle.

“If you play a regular sport then you know, okay they have scheduled practice for two hours everyday, they are probably going to go over defense and passing, but in rodeo you have no clue because this is like a whole lifestyle,” Kaitlin said.

Kaitlin has to keep her horses exercised, have them on supplements and keep tabs on the right kind of wheat and hay given to them. 

“[My] break away horse is 30 years [old], so I have to take careful care of him so he doesn’t get sick and not be useful,” Kaitlin said. “My barrel horse is kinda a prima donna, so we have to baby him.”

Kaitlin said she is really proud to say she has a relationship with all her horses; to her they are more than just a horse.

“I don’t buy them to just ride them, I buy them to have for life. It’s like another family member,”Kaitlin said.

Kaitlin said because it comes down to a hundredth of a second between winning and losing, it’s important to be able to predict how your horse will react.

“You have to know your horse up [one] side and down the other and know every movement they’ll make and how they’ll react in certain situations,” Kaitlin said.

Kaitlin also has to take care of herself by going to the gym, eating healthy and drinking lots of water or else she said she won’t be able to ride her horse to the best of her ability. 

Kim said Kaitlin has dislocated her shoulder six or seven times and has had to wear a brace to compete the past three years.

Even through the difficulty of rodeo lifestyle, Kaitlin still continues to compete and represent the Southern Illinois community.

Staff reporter Ashlyn Ege can be reached at [email protected].

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