A Tough Cowgirl

Earlier this year, I found out about female Saddle Bronc rider, Kaila Mussell.

Photo by Filene 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

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

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

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

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

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

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 –





How Much Is Too Much?

Since starting Cowgirls With Curves, I’ve had an increase in followers on Twitter. Interestingly enough, most of them are fitness fanatics. Most of them post about the fastest way to get ripped, or the latest greatest diet supplement. Needless to say, people in my demographic are their biggest clients and I’m sure that’s what they’re counting on!

How much time at the gym did he spend to look like this???

How much time at the gym did he spend to look like this???

One of the things I’ve noticed is how much time they spend in the gym. It’s never 15-20 minutes. It’s at least an hour, often more, 5-6 days a week. They dedicate their whole life to looking good, eating healthy and working out. That’s fine if that’s what you love.

The problem is that we tend to hold those folks up as a standard, and all too often we’re made to feel guilty if we don’t put that same hour in at the gym. Think about it. How many articles have you read that have said if you’re not spending a minimum of thirty minutes a day working out you’re wasting your time?

No one dies saying they wished they’d worked more. I have a sneaking suspicion that no one dies saying they wished they’re worked out more either. On a side note, I can imagine them saying they wished they’d ridden a few more horses!

This looks like a fun way to stay active!

This looks like a fun way to stay active!

I work in the healthcare industry and I’m surrounded by “healthy” people who live in the suburbs and fill their lives with yoga, gyms and kid’s soccer games. More than once I’ve gotten little looks when I say I’m taking the elevator because I get enough walking in every morning.

But seriously, we have nine horses and I spend a full hour every morning cleaning stalls, dumping feed, and bringing horses in – seven days week. I’m going non-stop. While they are just getting up casually drinking their coffee from their Keurig and worrying about what are going to wear for the day, I’m already out dumping a load of manure!

Then when they come home and worry about cooking dinner or what soccer game to go to next, I’m saddling a horse to ride or giving a riding lesson right up until time to go to bed because it’s the only time I have to get my riding in. My morning starts at 4am most of the time.

Naturally, when I go to work, the last thing I want to do is walk up the stairs! I also don’t want to get up an hour earlier just to get a workout in. I used to, but not any more.

While I do think it’s important to build strength, especially as riders, I think it’s also important to keep a happy balance. I think you also have to consider what are you getting in return for what it’s costing you. Is it worth it?

If that hour at the gym is really a sanity break for you, then yes it’s absolutely worth it. My guess is that’s a healthy habit that will stand a good chance of lasting a long time and that’s great!

On the flip side, if you’re stressed just making it to the gym because you’re so cramped on time, or you’re working out instead of getting a recommended amount of sleep, or it’s taking you away from important activities then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re doing. That hour may be causing more harm than good in some ways. If you’re overwhelmed by getting in that hour or even thirty minutes a day of exercise, then maybe it’s time to try something different.

Spending 10-15 minutes a day on core exercises or kettlebells really can offer some benefits, and you’ll see a definite improvement in your riding. That 10-15 minutes doesn’t even have to be all at one time – it can be broken up into different quick sessions throughout the day.

A few weeks back, I ran across this article on PopSugar. It talks about how instead of exercising in the traditional sense, you can find other ways to get active and healthy. If you’re like me and already getting that hour of barn chores in every morning you’re already half way there!

If you’re spending that hour in the gym every day, do it because you look forward to it, not because you feel you have to.

How many of you have felt stressed getting your exercise routine in every day? How did you deal with that stress and did you make any changes?

One of our afternoon rides. THIS is what's important.

One of our afternoon rides. THIS is what’s important.