28 Jan, 2012 in TwinCities.com
By Mary Divine
Rodeo stars have some interesting superstitions.
Kasey and Kati Stewart, sister rodeo stars from Afton, never wear yellow while competing. They never put their cowboy hats on beds. And don’t even think about asking them to race with money in their pockets.
The Stewarts will be putting their superstitions to the test Friday through next Sunday as they compete in barrel racing in the World’s Toughest Rodeo at Xcel Energy Center.
It will be the first time the sisters have competed in a major rodeo competition in their hometown.
“It’s more exciting than nerve-wracking,” said Kati Stewart, who turns 21 today. “We’ve got a big group coming to watch, and we’re hauling in a bunch of friends to compete with us.”
The rodeo is an open rodeo – meaning anyone 18 or older can enter. But the sisters, who have been training this winter at Strohfus Stock Farm in Denmark Township in southern Washington County, are serious riders.
“We wouldn’t enter unless we felt we deserved to be there,” Kati said. “It’s what you bring. You bring what you have to the table and show it off. We’re not there to brag it up and bring other people down. We’ve all worked hard to get there.”
On a recent morning, Kati and Kasey raced on horseback toward a triangle of barrels set at three points in an arena at Strohfus Stock Farm. Kati and Maui, her trusty mare, worked a cloverleaf pattern around the barrels in less than 15 seconds.
“This is strictly a speed event,” Kati said. “It’s just
you against the clock. If you get a knocked barrel, you get five seconds added (to your time), so you’re out of it. You’ve got to have tight turns. Smooth is fast.”
Kati said she has been riding horses for as long as she’s been able to walk.
She got her first pony, Prince, when she was 5. By 11, she was participating in 4-H and getting weekly riding lessons. From 4-H, she said, she moved “up the stepladder” to Western Saddle Club Association competitions.
Soon, she was competing in local barrel-racing competitions – called jackpots – and high school rodeos.
“We went all over the state, then started hauling nationally, even internationally,” Kati said. “Last year, we ran down in Louisiana and in Texas.”
Her biggest purse came in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one year when she won $2,000.
“If you have a good horse, it will pay off, but you’ve got to put the money back into them and take care of them,” Kati said.
Kati, a 2009 graduate of Stillwater Area High School, is an animal-science major at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. She has taken the year off school, however, to study at the Texas Institute of Equine Dentistry in Weatherford, Texas.
Between sessions, she’s living at home in Afton and working for her parents, David and Susie Stewart, at the family-owned business, Highland Sanitation.
She said she rides Maui every day. “She doesn’t need a lot of tuning. She just needs to be fit and ready to run,” Kati said. “I got her about three years ago, and she’s just been real solid and consistent for me.
“My job as a rider is to keep her from getting too psyched up,” she said. “Just as you have to focus, they have to focus, too.”
Her sister, Kasey, 19, is studying marketing and sales at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., but often comes home to train. The Stewarts keep about 25 horses on their 20-acre hobby farm.
Lena, Kasey’s horse, came from a ranch in west Texas.
“She just has a lot of try, and she’s really competitive,” Kasey said. “My mom picked her out; she had a good feeling about her. I couldn’t believe it when she brought her back. I didn’t think she would make a good rodeo horse because she was so little, but she’s turned out to be one of the best horses I’ve ever owned.
“She is my world,” Kasey said. “She’s just got the personality – she’s got a heart the size of Texas. When she sees those gates open, she’s ready to go.”
Barrel racing is a race against time around an obstacle course made of three barrels.
The key to a good run is the start, Kasey said.
“You can’t let them go too soon or too late,” she said. “Your take-off is everything. You have to be in the right position. It’s all in how you take that first barrel – everyone calls that first barrel the ‘money barrel.’ If you come to it, and you aren’t in position, it will throw off your whole run. It’s hard to recover from a bad first barrel.”
Each run is timed to the hundredth of a second, and the riders get only one run.
“If it goes bad, then it’s just too bad,” Kasey said. “Then it’s on to the next rodeo.”
Competing against her older sister, Kati, doesn’t cause her any angst, she said. “The announcers have fun with it. They’re always talking up sibling rivalry and saying things like ‘Let’s see if she can run faster than her sister.’ ”
Kasey might have one advantage at Xcel. She said she will be wearing one of her “lucky” button-down shirts and a favorite pair of “really, really tall, funny, colorful socks” that come up to her knees.
“I always wear those socks,” she said. “They always bring me luck.”
As we said, rodeo is big on superstition.
Mary Divine can be reached at 651-228-5443. Follow her at twitter.com/MaryEDivine.