Rodeo in her blood

12 Jul 2023

Student athlete Hailey Hardeman competes with University of Wyoming rodeo team

Summer 2023

Written By: Emmie Gocke | Images: Courtesy

On a typical Tuesday morning, University of Wyoming rodeo athlete Hailey Hardeman’s alarm goes off at 4 a.m.

By the time her sleepy-eyed classmates roll out of bed and into their 8:30 Intro to Marketing class, she’ll have completed an hour of rider agility and strength workouts, fed and watered her five horses at the UW rodeo team barn, and spent another hour roping steers or circling barrels with her teammates.

After a day of classes in communications, marketing and finance, she’ll head back to the arena to work with her other horses, each specializing in one of her three rodeo events: barrel racing, team roping, and her specialty, breakaway roping. Although she sacrifices a normal college social life to her horses and the sport of rodeo, Hailey wouldn’t have it any other way. “This lifestyle is a lot of work; it’s hard work,” she says. “But it’s also some of the best people you’ll ever meet. I love the community and atmosphere that rodeo offers. It’s a different way of life ... that’s pretty amazing.”

The unique cowboy way of life runs in Hailey’s blood — from her family’s original homestead in Kelly to the family ranch in Wilson where she learned to rope and ride at the age of 4. Not only is the sport of rodeo integral to the Hardeman family identity — both her grandma and dad also competed on the UW rodeo team — but Hailey says without the unwavering support from her family she would never have achieved her level of success in rodeo.

“Every single one of them has helped me get to where I want to be,” she says, brimming with gratitude. “Most people go to college and don’t talk to their parents. I talk to my parents at least four times a day when I’m at school. It’s something with my horses, or how to fix the water, or my trailer tire is low and the jack won’t go down.”

Hailey says her favorite part about returning to Jackson in the summers is getting to rope at the Jackson rodeo with her dad and her little sister Gracie. But this summer, she has her eyes on a different arena — the pro rodeo circuit.

“The women’s breakaway has exploded in the last few years and become more of an equal pay event at the college rodeos and pro rodeos,” Hailey says of her favorite event, and focus this coming summer. “It’s becoming huge, which is super exciting because now girls can compete and make money doing it.” 

With the culmination of years of preparation, including working with a mental coach to build a stronger connection with her horse, training in Arizona with roping phenom Rhen Richard, and starting her very own breakaway horse, Hailey’s ready to throw her rope with the pros.

Along with her competitive aspirations, Hailey hopes to use her communications degree to advocate for the sport of rodeo and the preservation of Western heritage so that future generations can continue to experience this unique lifestyle. Especially in Jackson, with rising property taxes and demand for land development, Hailey’s family and many other ranching families struggle with the question of whether to sell a little bit of land to keep the ranch running. But Jackson Hole hasn’t forgotten that its heritage is deeply steeped in Western traditions.

“When you come over the pass and it says ‘Last of the Old West,’ that is what Jackson Hole is,” Hailey says. “Jackson needs the Western way of life. People say it’s changed so much; that it used to be a cowboy town. I truly think it still is.”

Hailey, her family, and the many cowboys and cowgirls that continue to rope and ride at the Jackson Hole Rodeo every summer can attest to that.

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