Kenna Thomas battled through three surgeries to compete in breakaway and her beloved goat tying again. 

Kenna Thomas’ parents were told she may not walk as a child due to severe hip dysplasia—but the now-16-year-old from Mico, Texas, is proving her grit has staying power. 

Thomas began competing in junior high rodeo in sixth grade, and the now-junior in high school has undergone two hip surgeries and one appendectomy surgery in 2021 and 2022. Finally, Thomas is final back in the competition arena doing what she loves at full capacity, competing in events like the WCRA’s Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo DY Showcase.  

A Battle From The Start 

As a baby, Thomas’s pediatrician told her parents—rather abruptly—that he was worried about her hip.  

“It either was terrible bedside manner or [we] heard it as ‘There is a likelihood, if we don’t get this taken care of, that she’ll never walk.” 

Blake Thomas, Kenna Thomas’ Father

The doctor diagnosed her with hip dysplasia, caused by a shallow hip socket and weak tendons and ligaments holding the femur bone into the hip joint. It’s a genetic condition that is more prominent in girls—and Thomas’s left hip is more affected. 

As a baby, Thomas spent more than six months in a Pavlik harness 23 hours a day, which saw her legs held out to either side of her body and her knees bent.  

“She hated it as a kid,” Blake said. “She would scream and fight it.” 

The harness holds the femur bones into their sockets and allows ligaments to tighten. 

Following her time in the harness, Thomas defied her diagnosis and began walking. From there, her doctors changed their tune, saying that she would only have to undergo surgery if her hip began giving her problems.  

“It didn’t really start bothering me until I started getting faster and faster in rodeo [in middle school],” Thomas said.  

Rough Run  

Thomas’ left hip began bothering her during her eighth-grade year, developing a bone spur in the socket, which led to the to the pad in the joint, called the labrum, pinching painfully.  

Despite her hip acting up, Thomas garnered titles such as the 2020 Texas Junior High Rodeo Association State Champion Goat Tyer as an eighth grader.  

“I fought it all through my freshman year, and then the summer before my sophomore year we finally said, ‘Okay, it’s time to do something,’” Thomas said. “Because it got to the point where I couldn’t practice as much as I needed to.” 

Kenna Thomas gets wheeled into surgery.
Kenna Thomas gets wheeled into surgery. Image courtesy Thomas family.

Undergoing her first surgery in September 2021, Thomas had her left hip labrum repaired. Her recovery was officially six weeks—although Thomas competed in a jackpot in five. With physical therapy three times a week, Thomas completed her sophomore year. Even then, she says, something wasn’t right in the joint.  

Her second surgery came in July 2022, when her surgeons removed the bone spur and repaired the labrum. The recovery from this surgery was lengthier, coming in at 12 weeks, the Thomas was eager to get back on the road. This time, extensive physical therapy was needed to teach Thomas how to use her body correctly again because of years of compensation for her left hip. She did exercises to strengthen her hip flexors and core muscles paired with plenty of ice packs. Her surgeon said she wouldn’t feel 100% for 10-12 months, so Thomas is still feeling out her new-and-improved-normal.  

“In October I went to one rodeo, one of the [American Junior Rodeo Association rodeos]. The rodeo went great, my hip felt good. And that following Monday, I ended up in the ER with appendicitis. It had ruptured, and I had to have an emergency appendectomy.” 

Medical professionals told Thomas she’d be back to rodeo in three or four weeks, but, in true cowgirl style, she was back competing in two.  

“The doctors told me to let pain be my guide,” Thomas said. “It’s not the best thing they could have told me.” 

Now through a gauntlet of surgeries, Thomas is trying to convince herself that she’s capable of the physical maneuver’s goat tying demands.  

“The mental part of it is probably the toughest, knowing that it wasn’t going to hurt anymore, knowing that I could reach my full potential and I’m not going to make it worse,” Thomas said. “It’s mainly been trusting myself, knowing that I can do it and getting solid again.” 

Kenna Thomas and her horse Patron
Thomas rides “Patron,” a 16–year–old grade gelding in the goat tying. She praised the small horse for his consistency and big heart: “You cannot pay me enough money for him. He is the best.” | Image courtesy Thomas family by Jennings Rodeo Photography.

WCRA Double Whammy 

Along with the slate of high school rodeos Thomas attends, she’s been adding WCRA majors to her plate, too. She attended her first WCRA major at the WCRA Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo DY Showcase in December among seven other top goat-tying youth. 

NEW: WCRA’s 2023 Cinch World Championship Junior Rodeo, Format and Payout

“I really the WCRA, because I feel like it’s a double whammy,” Thomas said. “I’m at a rodeo winning money, and then I can also nominate and qualify for these big events with even more money.” 

Thomas said the WCRA team was accommodating in letting the goat tyers break in the stock and study the setup of the small coliseum before the DY Showcase.  

“I had an OK run [in Fort Worth],” Thomas said. “It was really smooth. I wish my horse would’ve gone down there a little bit faster, but that was my problem. Overall, the goat was great and the setup was great.” 

Thomas finished fourth in a field of eight in the invitational DY Showcase on Dec. 17, tying in 7.43 seconds and earning $500.  

As she enters her final high school years, Thomas plans to nominate more events to the WCRA. When it’s time to head to college, she plans on rodeoing and going to school to become a dermatologist.  

For more information on WCRAs Division Youth opportunities, events and leaderboards, click here.

Results

Cowtown Christmas Championships Division Youth Showcase Results

Fort Worth, Texas, December 17

  1. Jolie Watson, 6.88 seconds, $2,000
  2. Madison Scott, 7.07 seconds, $1,500
  3. Kaylie Garza, 7.24 seconds, $1,000
  4. Kenna Thomas, 7.43 seconds, $500
  5. Alyssa Gary, 7.46 seconds
  6. Mylee Modlin, 8.35 seconds

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