UW Cowgirl returns to CNFR
Casper – Growing up on a cattle ranch 22 miles east of Sturgis, S.D., Nikki Steffes made the decision to attend college in Laramie, where she now stands first in Women’s All-Around heading into next week’s College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in Casper.
Contributing to that All-Around ranking are her standings first in barrel racing, first in goat tying and third in breakaway roping.
As a high school sophomore in Sturgis, Steffes was the reserve national champion barrel racer and finished three times among the top 10 at the national high school rodeo. Three times she made it to the finals in two different events and in her sophomore year qualified in four. She won the South Dakota all-around title her final year of eligibility.
Steffes is set to graduate May 2010 with degrees in biology and medical microbiology. Of college rodeo, she says, “I really love college rodeo. I always knew when I got done with high school rodeo that I wanted to go on and compete at the college level.”
Two horses will accompany Steffes to the 2009 CNFR. “My barrel horse is Doc, and I’ve ridden him in the CNFR for the last two years in barrel racing and goat tying,” she says, adding he was Women’s Horse of the Year in 2008. “I’ve ridden him all four years of college, and to four total all-around titles and four barrel racing titles.”
She says she’s had Doc for 10 years and used him throughout high school. Her second horse this year is Handy, who she’ll use in breakaway roping and goat tying.
“College rodeo is a unique organization, and it’s different than high school because parents aren’t there. Contestants learn to rely on each other, and the friends we make are life-long,” she says. “Even though it’s really competitive, everyone depends on each other.”
Although the University of Wyoming Rodeo Team doesn’t travel as one unit, she says they organize to drive in groups.
With five rodeos in the fall and five in the spring, Steffes says team members are gone most of the weekend, with practice Monday through Friday lasting at least four hours. “The other athletes are all there during practice, and we help each other and give advice,” she says. “In college rodeo you practice with your competition every day.”
“We’re always trying to catch up on schoolwork, but most of my professors have been flexible,” she notes. “They hold us responsible for our work, but they’re understanding and willing to help us out.”
Calling UW a strong academic school, she says staying on top of schoolwork while still being prepared for competition is what she thinks is the hardest part of college rodeo.
Following graduation, Steffes says she’d like to try her hand at professional rodeo for a few years, with the possibility of dental school after that. The rest of summer 2009 she plans to attend amateur rodeos around South Dakota, but she admits she hasn’t yet thought much past the CNFR.
“This year I think we’ll have a lot of fun in Casper,” she comments. “We’ve got a great women’s team, and the men’s team qualified.”
She says the 2008 rodeo was more stressful following a fourth national title for UW in 2007. “There was a lot more pressure on me and the women’s team as the defending national champions, and we don’t have that this year. The most we have is the pressure we put on ourselves, but I want to enjoy the CNFR and have fun.”
The 2010 CNFR will be Steffes’ fifth, with eligibility granted through her service as Student Regional Director for the Central Rocky Mountain Region, although her points will no longer contribute to team standings.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.