By Kristen M. White
Kanesha Jackson has always loved rodeo, and she’s also always known what her priorities were in life. For a while, that meant rodeo taking a backseat to some other things, but she’s hoping soon to take a good run at professional competition.
Jackson has put together some recent successes that show she is an up-and-coming competitor. Most notably, she finished second in the permit-only race, and also won the short round at the WPRA World Finals in November, something she never saw coming.
“When they said congratulations to the permit short go winner, I bawled!” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Jackson was riding her 7-year-old colt Rose at the WPRA Finals and said she’d expected to get her some good experience, but never really imagined much more. She’d planned to season Rose during 2020, but when the Covid pandemic hit and shook up everything, she didn’t have much opportunity, so Rose stayed pretty green most of the year.
In August when rodeos began picking back up, Jackson took Rose to some rodeos and jackpots and got her permit to go to the WPRA Finals. She’d had to pull the horse’s shoes after an injury and was short on time prepping her for the Finals, so she didn’t go in with big goals.
“In the first round, the ground was hard and she doesn’t turn great on hard ground yet,” Jackson said. “I could feel her in the second round really trying, but she just over-turned the barrels. She was acting pretty green, so I didn’t even think I’d made the short go, but I came back 16th.”
She ran the pattern in 16.522 seconds in the first round, putting her in 12th in the 1D category. In the second round, she was 16.755, which put her 11th in the 2D.
In the short round, Jackson was first to run. She said she figured top of the ground would be hard again, which wouldn’t bode well for her and Rose. But something changed.
“It was like she was suddenly seasoned after that,” Jackson said. “She was firing. She felt great. I don’t think I breathed the whole run!”
They smoked the run, stopping the clock in 15.895 seconds. Her time would hold to be the only sub-16-second run in the finals – but of course Jackson didn’t know that yet.
She said she went straight to the barn, knowing she had to sit through all the other women. There were speakers outside the barn so she tried not to listen too much, but it was hard not to.
“I know I’d made a good run, but I sure wasn’t going to get my hopes up,” she said. “Then it got down to the last 10 girls and they were still repeating the leading time as me. I was talking to Rose – people were walking past the stalls and I was just talking to my horse. By the last five girls, I was down on my knees. I kept thinking, ‘The worst I could do now would be sixth. The worst I could do now would be third …’”
All the dust settled, Jackson still had the fastest time and she just simply couldn’t believe she’d done it.
Her excellent run in the final round pushed her up the ranks in the average. She finished second with a total time of 49.172 seconds, nipping at the heels of permit average winner Jordan Driver who finished in 48.428 seconds.
After that, Jackson had a lot to think about. Did she buy her card or take the option to extend her permit and buy her card in 2022 instead?
“I prayed about this and I sought a lot of advice,” she said. “I decided the best thing to do was extend my permit. I really want to go for Rookie of the Year, and I want to haul and feel like I have the best opportunities. You are going to see me when I go. I don’t want to just get my card to get it.”
Jackson said the extra time will also allow her to season Rose a bit more, plus she has a 4-year-old that she hopes is up-and-coming as well, so she can take the horses to different types of ground and get them ready for a strong rookie year. She – like everyone else – hopes the 2021 season sees the end of Covid and a return to normalcy on the rodeo circuit for 2022.
Plus, Jackson has other things to think about too – namely her daughter, Kortnee, who is 11 and also a barrel racer. Kortnee is one of the reasons that Jackson put her rodeo push on the backburner for several years.
Jackson grew up in rodeo with influence from her stepdad, Sedgwick Haynes. He did some pro rodeo, plus Jackson was the baby of the family, and with four older brothers who were all rodeoing too, it was bound to be part of her life as well.
“If it wasn’t for my stepdad, I’d be some city girl or something!” Jackson said with a laugh.
“Back then, I thought he was completely insane, the way he cared for horses, tended to them and had special bonds with them … but once I got older and worked on my horsemanship and put more time into perfecting my bond with my horses, then it started to make sense.”
Jackson competed in high school rodeo in her junior and senior years, then went on to compete in some college rodeo at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. When she became pregnant with Kortnee, Jackson knew rodeo was the thing to fall to the bottom of the priority list.
“I was a single mother and I was focused on getting my degree,” she said. “I always knew that if I was going to decide to do rodeo, I needed to have a plan B also – so getting a degree in business administration was really important. We all know that rodeo can be a gamble, so I needed a steady income so that home would be taken care of.”
By the time Jackson graduated from college, she’d sold her horse. She got another and trained it. In 2017, at the request of Haynes, she got her permit and went to the WPRA Finals, and although she didn’t have much luck, he got to see her compete there before he passed away in 2018.
A couple more years passed as Jackson was busy with work and her daughter, until she decided she was ready to season Rose – and here she is, making waves as a permit holder and getting prepared for her rookie season next year.
A Wrangler endorsee, she told the Wrangler Network last July (https://wranglernetwork.com/blog/cowboy-to-the-core-kanesha-jackson/) that her goal was to etch her name in the WPRA history books.
“I want to be the first African American female to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. I want to be the person to let other people know, even though you are a minority, no matter whether you are Black, Mexican, Chinese, whatever, you don’t have to have a certain background to reach this platform. Because we’re rare,” Jackson said. “I want little girls that are a different skin tone than what they would consider normal in the rodeo industry… to make them think that if she can do it, I can do it.”
For now she’s working in the College of Business at her alma mater, and plans to hit close-to-home Texas rodeos this spring and summer, getting as much experience with her permit as she can.
“I want to take the leap. I’m ready,” she said.