Wildcat Rodeo Club

Roping, Riding and Wrestling

Spring 2023
A photograph of Cyleigh Nelson competing in barrel racing at an intercollegiate rodeo held in Tucson

Cyleigh Nelson competes in barrel racing at an intercollegiate rodeo held in Tucson

Chris Richards


Bull riding, saddle bronc riding and barrel racing are just a few of the fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping sports familiar to the members of the rodeo club at the University of Arizona. Both in school and in the arena, these teammates understand hard work and perseverance. Between lectures and studying, they log hundreds of hours training horses, practicing roping, mucking stalls and hauling hay bales. They care for their animals, purchase their own equipment and transport their horses to competitions throughout the Southwest.

It is no small commitment.

Founded in 1939, the UArizona rodeo team hosted the nation’s first intercollegiate rodeo that same year. Today, the team competes in the Grand Canyon Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association against schools in Arizona and New Mexico. Rodeo events include tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, goat tying, barrel racing and breakaway roping.

Despite the long tradition of rodeo at UArizona, participation has declined since 2020, when competitions were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The club’s few remaining members are now rebuilding the team.

“A lot of people don’t know the university has a rodeo team,” says Emma Delgado, an animal science major and barrel racer. “It’s kind of sad, because we were the first college rodeo team ever. We’ve been trying to rebuild and get our name out there a bit more.”

To compete, members must have experience riding and own a horse. The club also welcomes noncompeting members who help with events, fundraisers or the club’s volunteer service at TRAK, a therapeutic riding ranch in Tucson.

“At TRAK, we help maintain the horses’ hooves and coats, and we help feed them and clean waters,” says McKinley Storm Huddleston, a psychology major. “It provides a better environment and experience for children visiting the ranch and allows them to enjoy the therapeutic services.”

Many on the rodeo team have been riding horses since they were young, and some even have rodeo in their blood.

“I was born into it,” says Bridger Sanborn, an aerospace engineering major and steer wrestler. “My parents both rodeoed their whole lives, so they brought me and my brother into it right away.”

“I wasn’t really born into rodeo itself,” Huddleston says. “But I grew up on my family’s ranch and had horses, cattle and livestock all around. As soon as I came here, I thought, ‘Well, let’s get into rodeo,’ and I’ve been working on a horse right now and training her to compete.”

While members compete individually in most events, the camaraderie and support is what they say they appreciate most about rodeo.

“My favorite aspect of barrel racing is the friends you make,” says Madison Michael, a nutritional science major and barrel racer. “At the end of the day, it’s not you versus everyone else. It’s you trying to be better than you were yesterday. It’s about the progress you make with your horse and as a team, and having all your friends support you along the way.”

“It’s hard for a lot of people when they come to college and move away from home,” Delgado adds. “Just being on the team really helps. At least you know your teammates have got your back.”

Kaylee Vicondoa, a veterinary science major and the team’s vice president and a roper, says teammates help each other with all aspects of college life, not just with rodeo skills. “We always try to support each other, no matter what we’re going through,” she says.

“Rodeo is also an outlet,” Michael says. “You’re working so hard in school, but when you go out there and practice — that’s two hours of your day that you can focus on something else. You’re not thinking about when your next exam is.”

The teammates agree that determination, patience and consistency are all qualities rodeo fosters.

“I’ve learned that you’re not always going to win or come out on top,” Vicondoa says. “And don’t take anything for granted, because it can change in a split second. Just take every ride that you can that day and enjoy it. Don’t get mad, don’t get frustrated, just have fun — people forget that.”

Most members find time to make their sport a priority, practicing with their horses every day of the week, whether it’s early mornings or late evenings — in rain, cold or Arizona heat. “Every time we can get out there and ride and practice with our horses, we do. Every day we can, to keep our horses fit and in shape and keep ourselves fit,” Vicondoa says.

Club president Katie Heitmann says a club practice space is one of their greatest needs and biggest long-term goals. Without a practice arena or stable that meets their needs, students board horses at private facilities and often practice individually. They also fund horse boarding and equipment costs and pay for travel to events for themselves and their horses.

“Rodeo is expensive, and college is expensive,” says Heitmann, a psychology major and barrel racer. “And we don’t get a ton of funding. We’re doing it all on our own.”

“Every team sport is going to be expensive, but each of us has an animal to take care of and feed — we’re not just taking care of ourselves,” Heitmann explains. She says if more people knew about the team and donated, they could help cover travel fees and eventually fund a practice facility.

The teammates agree that more support for the team and fans cheering in the rodeo stands would hugely benefit the club. “We’d love for anyone to come watch our rodeo. We put a lot of work into getting all the teams there and setting it up, and it kind of stinks when there’s not a lot of people attending,” Sanborn says. “Just come watch.”

Follow the team on Facebook @uarodeo or Instagram @arizonarodeo.

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The rodeo team is a nationally recognized intercollegiate team that competes in the Grand Canyon Region. We invite you to support the rodeo team by donating. 

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