The 2023 College National Finals Rodeo wrapped over weekend at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper. The University of Wyoming men’s team settled for 12th overall out of 56 teams, and the Gillette’s women finished eighth overall of 32 attending.
The big takeaway from the four-day event was Gillette College’s Haiden Thompson riding away as the women’s all-around cowgirl after Cowboy State Daily put the young cowgirl squarely in the spotlight with a CNFR preview on May 14 that called her the “favorite going in.”
The 19-year-old did not disappoint.
It was not Thompson’s best outing, and she’s the first to admit that. But in the razor-tight field where every 10th of a second means the difference between first and last, the college freshman got it done in the clutch.
If not for some bad luck, Thompson would have been even more dominant.
“Goat tying was crazy tough, just a dogfight. You could not afford a mistake or draw a bad one, that’s for sure,” Thompson said.
The Yoder, Wyoming, rodeo star grabbed second place in the first go-round, then things took a turn.
“I drew a bad goat in the second round,” Thompson said. “When I flanked him, he really kicked his legs, and so I couldn’t put the tie on him very fast.”
Competitors in rodeo freely share “the book” on animals across all events. Bull riders help each other out with intel from previous rides about what a bull might do, and it’s the same with goat tying.
“We would compare notes. I knew most of the girls there and they told me he was really hard to be fast on,” she said. “It helped me prepare for that second-round goat, but there’s only so much you can do when you draw bad.
“In a situation where it’s that fast — I mean us girls were tying goats in 6 seconds on average — when you have a bad goat like mine it can have you playing catchup.”
Thompson entered the short-go in seventh, a precarious spot for what is her best event. All season long, few have been able to keep up with Thompson in the event that involves dismounting a horse at full gallop, running to a staked-out goat, then throwing all 50 pounds of it and tying three legs with a pigging string — all in 6 seconds or less.
Thompson did it in 5.9 seconds (round 1), 6.6 (2), 6.2 (3), 6.8 (short-go) for a 25.5-second cumulative time. It was good enough for sixth place, but not enough to beat Montana State’s Paige Rasmussen, who was on fire all weekend.
Still, Thompson knew she was in the hunt in the all-around if she and her roping horse Foxy could keep odds-on favorites Kennedy Buckner and Samantha Kerns within striking distance in breakaway.
Thompson was top 12 with a 2.9-second run in the first round. She was even faster in the second with a 2.1 to best all ropers.
“That’s when I knew I had a good shot at the all-around. I just had to keep making some solid runs,” Thompson said.
Bad luck came back to bite Thompson again in the short-go. She was no-timed after failing to catch her cow cleanly.
“I roped my cow around the neck, but he managed to get a leg through the loop somehow,” she said. “It was one of those freak things you couldn’t make happen if you were trying for it.”
Thompson’s 80-point finish was good enough for sixth place in breakaway, earning her all-around cowgirl in her first CNFR.
Rodeo is like few other sports, especially in Wyoming, the Cowboy State.
Preparation for what often amounts to mere seconds of actual performance time is measured in months, or even years.
Mucking stalls, feeding horses, driving for days to rodeos and all the practice runs. All of the hard work boils down to one run that needs to last less than 3 seconds if you are to be “in the money.”
Talk about pressure.
“Rodeo is not for the faint of heart. You have to be so strong-willed. You have to have a really, really strong mental game,” Thompson said. “You need to keep things in perspective, to remember that, at the end of the day, win or lose, rodeo is something you love and that’s the reason you do it.
“If you don’t love what you’re doing, especially when you go through the slumps, which everybody does at some point, it can really tear a person down if you aren’t in the right head space.”
Thompson’s horses are dependable. She says they are pretty consistent and she’s blessed to be able to call them her teammates. The rodeo athlete is also practiced enough to be able to rope by muscle memory. What sets this 19-year-old apart is her compete level, her fierce desire to be the best.
And to do it in front of her hometown fans just two hours down the road from her college and a two-hour drive from her family’s ranch in Yoder, was something special.
“Every time I walked into the arena or settled into the box for my run and the announcer says I'm from Wyoming, the crowd would go wild,” Thompson said. “I try to appreciate all the little things and that’s one thing you can’t help but take in and smile proudly with everyone cheering you on. It’s an amazing feeling.”