13 Things Breakaway Ropers Need to Know About College Rodeo

Is college rodeo on your radar? Otero Junior College Head Coach Linsay Sumpter breaks down what you NEED to know before you enroll.

Hubbell Rodeo Photos

Prioritize the STUDENT in Student/Athlete

It’s easy to get wrapped up into the social side and rodeo side of college rodeo. You’ll have more intense practices, and you’ll have to balance your school work with your time in the arena. If you miss the school side of it, you’re ineligible and then you’re no longer a resource to the team. You cannot add value to your team and you cannot help your team compete. If you drop the student side out of the equation, you might as well go home. 

Rickie Engesser

Set Goals.

Just like anything, set goals. Be specific. Put it in the universe. Say you’re going to make the college finals. Tell your coach your goals so your coach can facilitate your goals. My job is to hear your purpose here and help you attain your goals. 

Fit Your Horse to Your Region.

You need to make sure you are seeing the setup in your region. Every region will be different. In our region (the Central Rocky Mountain Region) we score our cattle farther than most places. Down south, it’s a short score and you have to have something that’s right there fast across the line. Make sure your equine partner fits you personally—what fits Sally might not fit Jane—but no matter what, this is the next step to being a professional roper. You’re going to have to have speed. Do we all want Ink or Gangster? Yes, but not everybody has $25,000 to buy a new breakaway horse. Some girls only have $7,500 and have to make it work. Make sure they fit you and make sure they’re good in the corner. It’s no different than the bull dogging. If you get a really good start and you set your run up to have a high-percentage shot, your horse can have a mediocre stop. If you can get from A to B the fastest, you’ll have the ability to let yourself win even if you don’t have all the money in the world for the best horse. 

Keep an Open Mind with Your Coach.

Say one of my ropers has roped with her dad her whole life. He’s all she’s ever roped with and the only coaching she’s ever received. She’s set in her ways. She comes to me, and we use the Nex instead of a hay bale. We tighten up her loop, we work on her delivery and we tweak a few things. Sometimes that’s not received well—it’s received as me picking on her. Have an open mind when it comes to different styles of coaching. How I coach will be completely different than Beau Clark coaches in Laramie. Have an open mind to different styles of coaching. 

Loni Lester

You Can Rodeo Professionally and College Rodeo. Prioritize Your Time.

Get a day planner, not a month planner. Most of the students who are rodeoing professionally and college rodeoing are taking online classes. Make sure every day you have all of your assignments written down and prioritized. Know your schedule. Know when you have to enter. Know when your assignments are due, and then build your roping around that. Don’t let your academics fall through the cracks. It’s something that’s possible for females and males to do at this point. Just make sure you have a good schedule that you’re not letting things fall through the cracks. Get all of your assignments done before the weekend when you compete. 


I cannot help you if you don’t tell me what you need. I can’t help you with your instructors if you don’t tell me you need help. Communicate and really prioritize your time and all of these things can be done. It’s work ethic. If you want to work at it, you’re going to be successful. 

Master the College Rodeo Format.

Our rodeos are one long round and a short round with the top 10. When you have a long round and a short round, in the long round, you can’t be too conservative. You have to go at it. You have to get a great start and you have to take your first high-percentage throw. There will be girls that will be slinging. They will come across the line and Hail Mary it, and it will work or it won’t. For your team, first through sixth gets points. If you’re not in the top six, you’re not getting any points. You’re not different than the kids 11th-112th because you got the same amount of points. 

In the short round, it changes. You need to still get a good start and take a high-percentage throw, you don’t have to expose yourself as much. For the most part, if you just make the best run you can on the calf you have drawn, you’ll be super successful. You still have to go at these cattle in order to get points. The top three in the region go to the College Finals and the top two teams go. It’s not a top 10 or top 5 like you saw in high school. You have to win rounds, you have to win averages and you have to go at them. 

NFBR qualifier Hope Thompson winning the College Finals.

Know the Cattle.

If you draw up on the first run of the cattle it’s just like a roping, nobody knows them. If you’re in the later runs that’s obviously an advantage. You have more of a book on what the cattle will do. In our region where you draw up in the roping is where you’ll be. Other places girls will try to pay your fees and all kinds of stuff to trade to later sets, but in the Central Rocky Mountain Region we only allow one trade per semester so that doesn’t come up as much. 

Getting Scholarship Money. 

When I look at a student and scholarship dollars, at Otero we have a lump sum to divide up. I allocate that money to individual athletes based up on their performance in the arena and their academic success. I look at academics equally to a student’s winnings in the arena. If a student is academically not going to make it, it’s that much harder to me. I check grades every four weeks. If they’re not going to push themselves in the classroom, it’s hard to keep themselves bought-in in the arena. Definitely, for a junior or a senior looking to continue their education and get the opportunity to college rodeo, build a video reel. Build a resume. 

Be mindful of your social media. If you’ve got partying pictures and beers and smoking vape pens, I see that you’ll be a chore. Draft a nice email, contact the coaches in the areas you want to go, and then go see the school. Meet the coach, sit in their office, watch a practice. Make sure this is where you can grow as an individual. If you don’t want to be in La Junta, Colorado, this can be the worst spot in the world for you. It’s no different than Las Cruces, New Mexico, or Stephenville, Texas. You’re just in a bad spot because you’re not happy. Go see the school and meet the coach and hang out with them for a couple hours. 

Try Work Study. 

Work-study kids end up being my feed crew and cattle crew. That’s an opportunity. That’s a spot for a kid who needs a job. They get minimum wage and 15 hours a week. That’s a good little paycheck.

I believe I need those student athletes in my program who are not the NFR talents. To have them it’s amazing. I have a girl who is amazing with a rope and she’ll make the College Finals this year. I have another girl just learning who is roping the dummy and the sled only. To me, the other girl pushes my top girl to go rope the dummy. I love to give opportunities to students that maybe other institutions won’t. I don’t mind having a student that’s willing to learn. 

Don’t Give Up. 

Not everyone is roping in a scholarship right off the bat. But I might lose somebody at semester who can’t cut it academically or drops out or transfers. I write it into my letters of intent that you must maintain a 2.0 GPA. If you don’t, you don’t matter and you can’t compete. Scholarship money can come up, semester-to-semester. If Sally has just been grinding, and maybe I gave her a $500 scholarship. But she’s been working really hard. I can give her an extra couple thousand if something changes and that money becomes available. 

Maintaining Your Rig. 

In the perfect world, you’ll come to college with a reliable truck and a reliable trailer. With that being said there are students who show up with a 90s model pickup and an old, straight-load two-horse bumper pull. You wouldn’t want to bang that thing the whole way to Gillette, Wyoming. But you don’t win in the parking lot. You win in the arena. That’s how I rodeoed for years. I try to get my kids to consolidate as much as they can because we’re geographically at the bottom end of the region. If one kid has a four horse and is only taking one horse, we make sure the kid with the lesser trailer can throw in with them. 

Understand College Rodeo is a Team Sport.

A lot of times students get consumed with themselves instead of looking at the big picture. You are on a team. This is a team sport in college. Rodeo has always been an individual sport, but for the first time in your experience, this is a team element. You have to take the team into consideration. Who gets on the team can be made controversial. We have to be mindful of the entire institution. You’re a representation of your school and your coach now and not just your parents. It’s not just about you anymore. I think that sometimes that gets lost. I bang on it. Once a Rattler always a Rattler. Once you become part of this program you never leave it. Be mindful these people, coaches and institutions are taking chances on you. Be mindful of all the things these people are doing to you. We do it to our parents, too. Be aware of what you’ve got going and the opportunities you’ve got going for you. BRJ