Earlier this year, I found out about female Saddle Bronc rider, Kaila Mussell.
The fact that she rides Saddle Bronc is pretty impressive in itself, but the fact that she’s come back from a broken neck is a clear witness to the strength that she has on the inside. She’s a phenomenal athlete and I think she’s someone who exhibits the strength and toughness we all aspire to.
What was it that made you decide you wanted to try riding broncs?
I started off in rodeo, barrel racing at 11, and steer riding at 12. I did well at both events, however I got more of a rush out of riding steers and wanted to stay in the roughstock events. When I became too old to ride steers, my initial inclination was to ride bulls, however my dad convinced me otherwise. I’m glad he did, as at that point I knew of some women who have ridden bareback broncs and bulls, but didn’t know any women who rode saddle bronc in the modern style of saddle bronc riding. It turned into a more prestegious goal for me then, becoming the first woman to do so. At that time, my brother also wanted to ride broncs, so we both went to some bronc riding schools together to learn.
How did you feel the first time you rode an actual bronc out of the chute?
That was so long ago, and I’m pretty sure that I blacked out. When I was first learning that happened a lot, and even when I rode I couldn’t remember what happened. Eight seconds happens pretty quick, however over time and practice that short time (8 seconds) slows down, and when everything is happening right, it feels like all your movements are in slow motion.
When you decided to actually compete the first time, how did you feel? What were some of your thoughts & fears and how did you overcome those?
I was pretty nervous the first time I completed. I did, however grow up breaking colts since I was 10, so I already had alot of exposure to riding horses that bucked, and I already had rodeo experience, although not in saddle bronc. Most of my thoughts would have been related to not wanting to being a “failure” and get bucked off, not wanting to look like a “girl” out there, or scared that I wouldn’t be accepted because I was a girl. I really wanted to be accepted and to show others that I was just as capable as other bronc riders. Nowadays my attitude on all of these feelings has been completely turned around, however at that point in time that is definitely what I thought.
You broke your neck last year. Tell us a little about that.
I broke my neck on April 5, 2014 at a BCRA rodeo in Barriere, BC. I got bucked off and landed on my head and kind of rolled onto the right side of my neck and shoulder. I felt a shooting pain down the my right arm, and what felt like a crunch, but I chalked it up to a concussion, because other than being pretty sore, that’s what it felt like. I drove home that night, which was a couple of hours away and didn’t go to the hospital. The next day I was talking to my brother who is a doctor (GP), and he convinced me that I should go get it checked out because I was supposed to be flying to Hawaii the next day for a family vacation. I went to the hospital more so to eliminate anything being wrong with me, because I didn’t want to chance having high medical bills in another country. I happened to be picking up a friend at the airport that day and decided to stop in at VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) which is the only spinal unit in BC. I’m happy that I did. They took the injury very seriously and put me on a backboard and in a neck brace. Multiple x-rays, CT and MRI later I was told that I broke my neck in 2 places on the right side of C6, and that I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I wore a brace for a couple of weeks until they realized my neck wasn’t healing properly. Immediately thereafter I went in for surgery and ended up getting a fusion between C5-C7, and two of my disks replaced by part of my right hip bone.
When did you decide to start riding again after that and why? Was riding the first time after your injury different from what it was like before?
While I was healing from a broken neck I was faced with all sorts of thoughts and decisions about what my future would be. After weighing all the facts, talking to my surgeon and hearing everyone elses often unwanted “opinions” on what I should do with my life, I dug deep down and realized that my passion for bronc riding was still there. At minimum I wanted to come back to riding if only to end on my own terms. I waited a full year after my injury to completely heal to ride again. My first ride back was on a “practice” bronc, a day prior to Williams Lake, BC Indoor Rodeo where I was to be competing for the first time after breaking my neck. The bronc “Starbucks”, was a horse I was familiar with and I had ridden a few times in the past. I managed to get her rode, but it wasn’t pretty and got off on the pickup man. It definitely was a huge relief to get that one out of the way, as I came away without injury! From there, the major fear was gone, and I was back to the swing of things.
How was it different?
The main difference with coming back riding after such a major injury, was that I appreciated the opportunity of being able to ride again. I’ve noticed this year that I’ve had a lot more fun, not taken things as seriously as I have in the past, and enjoyed the whole journey of riding broncs in all aspects of the experience both outside and inside the arena. I also managed to win the year-end season leader saddle for the BCRA (BC Rodeo Association) in the saddle bronc. So overall, my comeback has been amazing!
How do you stay mentally tough?
I think pretty positive on a regular basis. When I don’t, I remind myself why I’m doing this, focus and look at the bigger picture. I read inspirational/self-help books, say positive affirmations to myself and post them around me. As well, journaling has been a huge help in focusing on my goals, seeing where my mindset is, noticing things that may have helped in the past that can help me now, and/or seeing how far I have come and being able to acknowledge this.
What is that motivates you to keep going?
This is a really hard thing to describe what motivates me, as only a small amount of this can be put into words. Motivation is more of a feeling, a passion that can’t be described. I’m driven to do it, in part because I love the sport, the lifestyle, the challenge, the adrenaline and excitement of the sport. To a large part these days I am motivated by seeing how much I inspire others to pursue their dreams by doing what I do.
What is your fitness routine to stay in shape to ride?
My fitness routine varies throughout the year depending on my work and rodeo schedule. On a regular basis I strength train (primarily core training) 3 days a week (30-40 mins), do cardio (primarily jogging) 3 days a week (4 miles), and yoga (1 hour) 1-2 days a week as well. This may be alternated with other physical activities such as hiking, biking, MMA training or otherwise.
As for eating, I have had a lot of structured strict diets over the years. I now find that its easier to eat well on a regular basis and stay active than to go to extremes. I really don’t deny myself any foods, however less healthy alternatives I eat in moderation. On a daily basis I do eat a high amount of protein, stick to whole, unprocessed foods, and eat small amounts throughout the day rather than eating large meals. Mind you, when you are on the road, it is sometimes hard to eat well or regularly. I try to always pack lots of water and healthy snacks in case this happens.
Any words of wisdom for anyone that wants to ride broncs, or anyone that wants to rodeo in general?
Set clear goals of what you want. Be willing to learn and put in the time and effort into what you do. The skills for your chosen event in rodeo will not come overnight, but with hard work and dedication it will all come together. Strive to constantly learn and improve.
What’s mandatory to be able to rodeo?
Mental and physical toughness, love of traveling, getting dirty,and performing under pressure, aside from investing a lot of money. Nothing in life is easy, but when things come together, it is all worth the effort. Rodeoing is a lot like gambling, the only thing you are in complete control of is your effort in your ride or run.
If you’d like to keep up with Kaila, you can keep up on her social media accounts –
Award winning Cowboy Poet Stuart Hooker has been writing poetry for a lot of years, but it’s only the been the last few years that he’s shared his work with the world. A hard working man that grew up with traditional ranching and cowboy values, he’s a talented writer that’s never strayed far from his roots. If you love horses, cowboy poetry, and the western lifestyle you’ll love Stuart’s interview.
If you had to sum up in three words what you do, what would they be?
Write for me.
Tell us a little bit about what a day in your life is like.
A day in my life: Like most working folks, I have two separate types of days. I work in a copper mine, as most of my share of our family ranch did not come to me as my grandparents wished, so I have to work away from the ranch. The small part I was able to keep is not large enough to make a living on. In the mine, I operate a huge P&H electric shovel, loading 240 ton trucks with ore, leach material, or waste to be hauled out of the open pit mine. Nearly half of my days are spent going to work, to make a living, carrying and trying to share the work ethic I learned on the ranch. We work 12 hour shifts, so with vacations and days off, I am off more than half of the days. I have less than five years until I retire. I enjoy what I do, especially when I get to “train” new shovel operators.
Now, here’s the best part, having more days off than workdays! I was able to salvage a one section pasture that I am currently fencing off, so I can run eight to ten head of cattle on as a supplement to my retirement. It has a dirt tank that generally holds water year round, but with the drought conditions we’ve had here in SW New Mexico, it has been dry a few times in the past few years. I am in the process of building a road to my camp so I can get a well drilled and put a solar pump in. I plan on living there after retirement, but it’s miles away from power, so I’m looking into solar, back up generator, and other types of power. On my days off, I love to go work on this pasture. I’ve built what I call my “Kiva,” with the help of family and friends. I have a mini-motorhome I sleep in when there for a few days, and the “Kiva” is the gathering place for when family/friends join me. It has a fireplace, and three grills for cooking, table, home-made chairs, and other furniture. What I enjoy most is the complete silence and peace to be found there. It’s miles away from a highway and the county road that goes through my pasture is rarely traveled. You may find me cutting posts, stays, trimming brush, building fence or roads, or watching deer, elk, and other wildlife up there on my days off.
Tell us what type of writing you do.
I write cowboy poetry, mostly. At times I write song lyrics, when one “just sounds right” with a melody accompanying it, but the majority of my work is cowboy poetry. I was raised on our family ranch, working from a young age as a cowboy and as a farmer. We raised our own hay, grains, and “permanent pasture” for grazing. I have so many fond memories of working cattle, wrangling horses, and the close knit family we had at that time working together for the building up of the ranch. That’s why I write cowboy poetry. It’s a life I have lived and am getting back to soon.
Here is one verse from a poem in my book, “A Cowboy Spirit,” which was picked as best Western poetry book for 2014, by “True West Magazine” in their January 2014 issue. This is from the poem “I’ve Outlived Lots of Horses:”
I’ve outlived lots of horses, I’ve had good ones from the start,
I’ve outlived lots of horses, but they live on in my heart,
I’ve outlived lots of horses, I rode each one with pride,
I’ve outlived lots of horses, broke my heart when each one died;
You cain’t help but love horses, each one’s different than the rest,
You cain’t help but love horses, hard to say which one’s the best,
One may be good in mountains, one may have a lot more speed,
All of them have somethin’ that a cowboy may need;…
Tell us a little about your writing history and how you got started.
I have always loved music and poetry, mostly Country Western Music and Cowboy Poetry. Like I said earlier, I’ve written poetry for most of my life, but I thought it was not fitting for a cowboy to write poetry. My perspective was off. I finally let my family and very close friends view my work. I was amazed, and still am, by the fact that they liked it. When the lyrics I wrote went number one, in someone else’s name, after the anger subsided, I realized that I was doing something that I could take pride in, and very quickly my writing improved, due to that confidence.
I have just begun my journey as a writer. I’ve written for years, but only recently, July, 2013, had my book of poetry published. I have started reciting my poetry at local events and on “open mic night” at a local “Saloon and Opera House.” I competed at the Western Music Association in a poetry recital contest and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m still an “unknown” as I build a reputation in the cowboy poetry world, so I’m not, as yet, invited to the large “gatherings” around the country. Also, my job keeps me from going to as many as I’d like, but I’ll retire soon and be able to attend more. I have found a new publisher and have my manuscript for my second book almost complete. I’m looking forward to it coming out. My first book received an enthusiastic review from Rick Huff, a nationally recognized reviewer of country music and poetry. I was amazed when he said, “Hooker is one heckuva poet,” and that my book was worth the effort to find.
Tell us how horses have played a roll in your life. I bet you have some great horse stories…
Horses have been an important part of my life, teaching me lessons in life and taking me to places that would normally be out of reach. When I got the first horse that was actually mine, my grandfather bought him, and one for my older brother, from a horse trader in Gila, NM. Grandpa knew they were out of Mexico, but they appeared to be good ranch horses. I remember my brother wasn’t paying attention once and got bucked off and broke his arm while riding his little paint. That made me cautious, but my black horse was worse. We didn’t know he had been “locoed” and he threw me higher than any other horse before or since. I still have slight back problems, as I landed on my shoulder and messed up my back. My next horse, a sorrel, was bred and raised on the ranch. He was more than a pet, or a tool, his personality was indescribable. We were more like best friends, so when I was checking on him out in the pasture, one winter and found he and eight other good horses had gotten into loco weed, it really was hard to deal with. I wasn’t able to get him over it, but you learn life’s lessons out on the ranch and sometimes they’re not pleasant. Like my poem says: “they live on in your heart.”
We raised Quarter Horses, and they’re my favorite. They make excellent ranch horses and they’re smart, dependable, and can do almost anything that’s asked of them. Years ago, a hired hand ran a horse for many miles, and “wind broke” the horse. He was instantly fired, of course, and the horse improved and was put out to pasture, but that horse didn’t quit, even though his health was at risk. That sad episode that I witnessed when the horse brought the rider into the ranch yard has stuck with me, and I was impressed by the heart of that Quarter Horse, along with the selfishness of the hand.
In his later years, my grandfather had a grey horse, named “Jiggs,” that had a few years on him, and my grandpa loved that horse. “Jiggs” had more “cow sense” than any other horse I’ve known. My grandpa taught a lot of us and a lot of horses much about cattle. Well, we were at a corral we had high on a mountain, and were branding the calves when we heard some commotion from outside the pen. The first thing I saw was “Jiggs” had backed away from the fence where he was tied by the reins and was pulling backwards. I thought something had spooked him. Nope, grandpa had loosened the cinch, as we all did when a horse was being rested and grandpa’s saddle must have slipped down on his side. All I saw was “Jiggs” standing there, still tied, with the saddle between him and the post with the reins going through the cinches and to the post. “Jiggs” had taken his own saddle off, all by himself. We all got a good laugh out of that!
If you could have one dream come true what would it be?
I have had so many dreams realized that I know I have been blessed! My daughters, grandchildren, and my first great granddaughter are all doing well, making grandpa proud, and seeing my first attempt at publishing my writing, holding that book that I created in my hands. I don’t know if life gets better than that. Being raised on the family ranch, I remember the entire family getting together, usually on Sunday, after morning church services. Granny, mom, Aunt Mary, and the other ladies would have a tremendous meal for the “army” of relatives, and friends to feast on. Those were good times. The dream I’d like to realize more than any others is for the family to be close, like we used to be, but I’m afraid that so much self-interest has overpowered their sense of family. The split of a ranch is especially hard when greed is involved!
If you could tell the world one important thing, what would it be?
The cowboy way of life includes working hard, doing you share of the work, and more, to get the job done. That helps you to like yourself and who you are. Learn your job and do it the best you can, then you will be proud of yourself and realize you may not hear that you’re doing good, but others and yourself will realize this and then you will be a success! Taking pride in what you do makes you better at it.
Any parting advice for writers and horsemen?
This follows the same lines as the last question. I hid my poems for years, believing that real cowboys don’t write poems, hahaha. That was a fallacy and I don’t know where it came from. When I gave away some lyrics I wrote and they became a huge national hit on a major Country Western album, I was angry until a friend convinced me that I was looking at it wrong. I needed to focus on the fact that I could write a number one hit song and that I was a good writer. That’s when my writing improved, greatly. I’m constantly trying to improve my writing, and I edit, edit, edit, but I believe my writing is improving. Realizing the truth, whether we need to learn more about horses, techniques, gear, or about writing, and working on getting better and more knowledgeable is the key. If we’re constantly trying to improve, we will succeed!
How can people keep up with your work?
I have a Facebook page: (Stuart Hooker, author) where I regularly post poems. I have near 2,000 page likes there. A few of the poems are from my first book and a few will probably go into my next book. A handful of my poems are posted on the “Folks” page at cowboypoetry.com, the largest site for cowboy poetry, and a site that I support and hope others will, also. My book, “A Cowboy Spirit” is available at most online bookstores, amazon, barnesandnoble, and others in the hardback, softcover, and ebook editions. It’s also available through my publisher Xlibris and their bookstore. So far, the local newspapers, Silver City Daily Press and Las Cruces/Silver City Sun News are the only print media to cover my poetry. Totsie Slover, a dj at the Deming, NM radio station, KDEM, has interviewed me, but I am still in the process of “building a rep.”
Tell us a little about your plans for the future.
I have been writing for almost fifty years, but have kept it hid until the last fifteen, or so years. I’m sure there are gems of cowboy poetry in warbags, trunks, and other hidden sites that have never been seen by anyone except the author, all over the West and the entire country. It’s unbelievable the number of people who comment to me that they, also write, whether it’s prose or poetry. I only recently, July, 2013, self-published my book with the help of Xlibris, a “vanity publisher” who’s main goal is to sell me “marketing campaigns.” They did a great job on the book, but I had to market it on my own, which hasn’t gone very well, as yet. I believe the internet social networks are the boon of the future in marketing. My Facebook page now has almost 2,000 “likes” and I’ve had a poem that I posted reach over 100,000 “views.” Of course I hope the sales of my book takes off and I, at least, get back the money I paid to have the book published and it would be nice to have a supplement to my retirement in almost five years. I think social media is the way to get the word out, if your work is good! There are also many more “cowboy poetry gatherings” now than there ever have been. When I’m able, I plan on attending more events around the country. It will be nice to meet people from all over that share the same interests as I do, cowboyin,’ horses, and all American values!