Kyla Matthews is the picture of persistence, competing in her eighth International Finals Rodeo and winning her first IPRA Breakaway Championship on January 15, 2023, in Guthrie, Oklahoma, with more than $25,000 earned.
Coming into the IFR with $19,872, Matthews held off No. 2 Maelee Wade of White, Georgia, with $6,111 earned across the four-day finals despite having “tough luck” in Guthrie previously. The 23-year-old from Athens, Tennessee, focused on putting her faith in God.
“When I went out there this year I was like ‘Whatever happens, happens,’” Matthews said. “God knows what’s going to happen, so I just need to do my part and not worry about it. I’d pray to God that He’d do whatever He’d planned.”
Matthews caught clean in all but one round: finishing second in round one, first in round two and second in round four with times of 2.7, 2.6, 11.7 and 2.4 seconds, in each round respectively.
“I’m better under pressure and when it’s fast,” Matthews said. “In the final round, I took a deep breath, backed in the box and got my catch. My calf wasn’t bad, but I didn’t know if he’d been caught yet. He’d go straight for a few steps and then he’d take off hard to the right. So, I knew I had to get him before he took off to the right.”
Matthews says she does better when she ropes offensively as opposed to playing it safe and trying to lock up the average. Riding grade mare “Senorita,” Matthews conquered her overthinking habits and “Went at ‘em.” She praised the IPRA for their inclusion of breakaway in their events and their equal added money at the IFR finals.
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A Lifetime of Rodeo Experience
Matthews has nearly two decades of rodeoing experience, starting to compete when she was 5 years old. The daughter of Darrell and Misty, Matthews entered in barrels, goat tying, pole bending and team roping growing up before focusing on breakaway after high school.
“It was a big adjustment going from team roping to breakaway; there is a big difference in how you swing,” said Matthews, who primarily headed. “In team roping, you have to swing your rope flatter versus in breakaway, where you really have to keep your tip down.”
She competed on scholarship for the rodeo team at East Mississippi Community College and is now planning on starting school in April to become an esthetician.
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Partner for a Decade: Senorita
Opinionated buckskin mare Senorita is celebrating her 19th birthday and tenth year competing with Matthews in 2023. Although Senorita was said to be registered at one time, her papers are lost.
“She’s bred like, Dinero (PC Frenchmans Hayday) and Thoroughbred,” Matthews said. “She’s not even bred to be a breakaway horse. She bucked everybody off; she was cold-backed and nobody wanted her. My dad paid $2,200 for her and we just worked her through it. We rode her through the storm until she figured it out.”
Matthews explained their approach to training with Senorita was slow and steady, showing her she could enjoy the jobs they were asking her to do—although she’s still a little cold-backed and opinionated. Even at the IFR, Matthews warmed Senorita up outside before haltering her and leading her into the arena to keep things low-pressure.
“She’s made me a better roper, for sure,” Matthews said. Matthews and Senorita’s triumph at the IFR is the result of persistence both at home and in Guthrie.