Earlier this year, I found out about female Saddle Bronc rider, Kaila Mussell.
Photo by Filene 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.
Photo by Bernie Hudyma
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.
Photo by Christopher Morris
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.
Photo by Patti Ouimette
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.
Photo by Filene Mussell
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.
Photo by Thomas Camus
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.
Photo by Kat Nair
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 –