By Amy Wilson
Winning a championship at the College National Finals Rodeo isn’t the only thing Kristi Steffes and Danyelle Williams have in common - they both come from towns named Vale, compete on 15 year old horses, and are pursuing degrees in Elementary Education. South Dakota native, Steffes, and her gelding, Captain Mitos Legacy, returned to Casper, Wyo., with confidence for their fourth and final qualification. “I knew the set up, and what I needed to do to help him perform to the best of his ability,” Steffes said. “I had a good feeling going into the college finals.”
The Black Hills State University student had given Captain some time off, and had been selective of where she ran him due to his age. “I only ran Captian at about half of the region rodeos because I was trying to save him,” she commented. The results proved effective in Round 1 at the CNFR. “He fired really hard which is kind of surprising for him because the older he gets, it seems like he runs better in performances than slack,” Steffes said of their 14.10 time to place second in the round. A 14.16 run in slack for Round 2 placed them 10th. Then it was time for a performance run where Steffes knew the excitement in the Casper Events Center would transfer energy to her equine partner. Just one hundredth of a second shy of first place, they ended up second with a 13.98 time, giving Steffes added confidence for the short round. “He did so good in the third round that I knew he was going to perform well in the short round.”
Steffes was the last barrel racer to run in the short round, and she was unaware that Williams and Sonny were at the top of the leaderboard with the fastest run of the entire CNFR. “I didn’t know how fast I needed to be or what had gone on before me,” she remembers. With a beautiful run of 13.85, Steffes placed second in the round and won the average with 56.09 to become the 2016 CNFR Barrel Racing Champion. “It took awhile to sink in, but it was very exciting! I think it’s so exciting when you do well at a level like that because there are so many amazing horses there. It’s a very competitive barrel racing.”
Her family shared in the excitement after having helped in their special way. Steffes explained, “My dad helped me before each run down there outside the building and waited with me and Captain before we ran. And my mom was in the stands being nervous and videoing.” Steffes’ older sister, Nikki Steffes Hansen, had competed at the CNFR five times, winning national titles in the All-Around in 2007 and 2009, before going on to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2012. “Right before I ran on Saturday, she didn’t tell me anything about barrel racing or how to run barrels, but to really believe in myself and believe in my horse and that there was a reason we had done so well.” Steffes expressed her appreciation for Nikki’s support, “It was really nice having her there, especially being at the college finals where she had so much success. I think it was pretty exciting for her to see me and Captain do well there.”
Even though her dad was once a bull rider and her mom grew up around horses, Steffes credits her sister for getting her into rodeo. Plus, Nikki trained Captain and had ran him until she took over in high school. “Our family raised him,” Steffes began as she told about Captain’s early days. “He’s out of a mare (Mito Silver Bell) that my sister ran in Little Britches and high school and college. That was the first baby she had, and he’s by Frenchmans Guy.” Steffes was 6 years old when Captain was born. “We always hauled him along to the rodeos because Nikki was still competing on his mom when he was just a baby, so I would just hang out at the trailer with him and let him take naps,” she said with a laugh as she explained an old photo where she has the foal covered up with a little blanket.
Steffes recalls that her parents made sure she and Nikki had good horses, and learned important life lessons on their South Dakota ranch. “We grew up helping work cattle and knowing responsibility of taking care of animals, and I think that made us appreciate our animals and know that they come first and how to take care of them. The work ethic behind growing up on a ranch made a big difference in our rodeo careers.”
While finishing up her Elementary Education degree this year, Steffes plans to stay close to home and qualify for the Badlands Circuit finals on Captain again. She summed it up this way, “To be able to go and get an education so you can have something to do along with rodeo is really important.” She would also like to go to a few bigger rodeos, and believes that college rodeo has helped prepare her to compete professionally. “It teaches you to be competitive and especially when you get to the College National Finals, the atmosphere is so intense.”
Eventually Steffes hopes to make it to rodeo’s super bowl, “I think every barrel racer dreams of going to the NFR - it would be fun to come across a couple special horses that could make that come true.”
Blue Mountain Community College sophomore, Danyelle Williams proved she was the best multi-event hand at the CNFR by winning the 2016 Women’s All-Around Championship. She also helped take the Women’s Team title back to Pendleton, Ore., for the second consecutive year. Williams qualified for the CNFR in breakaway roping and barrel racing, but she also competes in goat tying and team roping (heading).
When it comes to picking her favorite event, the Vale, Ore., native prefers barrel racing because she knows how valuable a nice barrel horse is, “I really like breakaway, but I like running barrels because I feel like a nice barrel horse only comes around once and awhile.”
PHOTO BY: Dan Hubbell
Williams’ horse is Sonny, a 15 year old grade gelding. “We bought him when he was four years old, and he was barely halter broke,” Williams said as she remembers the rough start. Now, he is not only a nice barrel horse; but he excels at multiple events.
Williams won Round 2 at the CNFR in the breakaway on Sonny with a 2.1 second run. In the barrel racing, Williams and Sonny were eighth in Round 1, second in Round 2, and fifth in Round 3. Going into the short round, Williams knew she was sitting good in the All-Around standings. “My original plan was to just go make a run and secure my spot in the All-Around; but I really wanted to win the barrels because if you win it, you get a shootout position at Cheyenne.” Williams ran the fastest time of the CNFR with an awesome run of 13.79, but ended up second in the average - the exact same placing she received last year. Williams’ goal now is to qualify for the Columbia River Circuit Finals this year.
She has two more years to complete her Elementary Education degree, and a special horse to help her succeed in both collegiate and professional rodeo. “I’m lucky to have him,” she said.