Australian-Born Zilverberg Geared Up for 2020 NFBR on Great Horse Snipper

A Q&A with National Finals of Breakaway Roping qualifier Tanegai Zilverberg

Zilverberg made the fastest run of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo with a 1.9-second run. | Phifer

Tanegai Zilverberg, 22, of Holabird, South Dakota, will enter the inaugural National Finals Breakaway Roping eighth in the WPRA’s ProRodeo Breakaway Standings with $11,265.67 won in 16 rodeos, including a first-round win in her bracket at the 2020 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo with a 1.9-second run, the fastest of the historic rodeo, worth $1,760. Zilverberg is also second in the WPRA Tie-Down Roping standings with $5,642.74 won, was the 2019 WPRA Reserve World Champion in the tie-down and rides one of the association’s top horses in A Bit of Snipper, the ranch-raised palomino gelding that’s been winning since he was a 3-year-old at the Senior ProRodeos for Tanegai’s mom, April, and dad, Senior World Champion Gary Zilverberg. 

Taylor Schmidt: When did you begin breakaway roping and how did you get so involved in the sport?

Tanegai Zilverberg: I have been roping since I was about 6 or 7. Both my parents rope, so it was just something we did.

TS: Being from Australia, do you have insights into how the breakaway sport is different in Australia than in the U.S.? Is it advancing in Australia as it is in the States? If so, how?

TZ: I was born in Australia and moved to South Dakota when I was 6, but my views of breakaway there compared to here could be controversial to many. Australia breakaways the same as the U.S.A., but it is not as competitive and idolized. There are girls who rope very good in Australia, but from what I see on social media, the set ups are shorter barriers at most and the cattle are slower. Australia is big on animal welfare, so that factors in also, but I find that a professional rodeo in Australia is like a high school rodeo here.

TS: As a horse trainer, where do you focus your attention on when practicing with clients? Do you train breakaway horses as well?

TZ: When someone comes to rope we try to make it fun and have them “let loose.” I find many people have had the quote “Practice until you get it perfect” imbedded into their minds too much. I want people to come and rope with me and have fun. When you are enjoying the sport, you are roping good. Most of our focus usually ends up being on the way someone swings. Once they get that worked out the rest is a feel they need to find for themselves. We can tell them tactics that might work for them to develop that feel, but in the end it is what you find works the best for you.

I train breakaway horses, too, and I usually have two to four outside horses and several of my own I am roping on at a time. Training horses double as my practice horses, as I very rarely rope on my good horses.

[Related: The Top 15 Breakaway Ropers Qualifying for NFBR]

TS: As the first Australian qualifier to the NFR in breakaway roping, what does this mean to you to represent Australia at such a historic event?

TZ: I was born in Australia, and it is nice that I can represent that at such a large event. I have a large backing from Australia also, which I appreciate so much. However, I only lived there for 6 years. I am a South Dakotan. I developed most of my skills roping against competition in South Dakota, so to me, that has formed me into more of the roper I am than the 6 years I was in Australia.

TS: Looking at your list of accomplishments, what was your favorite rodeo and most memorable win?

TZ: I actually do not like answering this question. Every event I attended where I won is memorable. I don’t have a favorite, or hype over one single rodeo. I’ve made The American, but I also won Estelline, South Dakota, amateur rodeo. To me, both of those are the same accomplishment, one just got more publicity.

Zilverberg and A Bit of Snipper at the 2020 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Phifer

TS: Considering the set up for the National Finals Rodeo, how are you preparing yourself for this competition?

TZ: I am not changing anything for this set up. I will still be riding my training horses and roping a few on my good horses a little more than usual. The NFR to me is just another rodeo. I don’t feel as though I should change anything if what I am doing is working.

TS: Recognizing the list of accomplishments your horse has, how important is it to you to have “A Bit of Snipper” with you at the first National Finals Rodeo?

TZ: Astronomically important! Snipper deserves to back in the corner at the NFR more than I do. I have had many horses that have helped me form my abilities in the roping pen, but Snipper taught me how to be fast. When I catch on him, I usually win. When I am nervous, he takes care of me. He is the reason I am headed to the NFR.

TS: With this event becoming more and more competitive, how do you keep Snipper staying consistent and sharp within your run while rodeoing?

TZ: I don’t, Snipper gets turned out in the pasture with every other gelding at night and comes in for grain every morning. He gets exercised two to three times a week depending on the weekend’s events. If I need it for my confidence, I will rope three calves on him before I go somewhere, but he usually doesn’t not get roped on at home. He knows his job, and he is always sharp no matter what.

TS: With your background in training horses, is there a go-to bit you prefer to ride in your breakaway horses? Why? What helps them to score and trust you within your run?

TZ: The bit I use on my breakaway horses depends on the horse. A horse will tell you what he likes and what he doesn’t by the way he works. I have horses I need a solid port bit on and horses I could ride in a halter. What I do encourage when picking a bit is a ported bit. Tongue relief is a huge factor in the way a horse works.

TS: When you back into the box, what do you think about before nodding your head?

TZ: Score.

TS: Recognizing you parents’ achievements in the rodeo world, can you discuss how this impacted your career in breakaway?

TZ: Besides getting asked if I am their daughter, it has not impacted it a whole lot. The most impact would be comments about how I rope like my dad.

TS: Can you tell me what it is like to be so young competing against some of the sport’s legends? Does this get to you while you are competing?

TZ: To me, age is not a factor in anything. Yes I am young, but I am on the same level as anyone else there. The only effect it has on my competing is when I don’t have a run go the way I’d hope, I know I have more years left to come back stronger.

TS: Along with your parents, who influenced you to compete in the sport of breakaway at such a competitive level?

TZ: Mainly my parents and a select bunch of friends throughout the years who have always had an encouraging word to say no matter what. However, the decision was mainly my own. I decided when I was a freshman in high school to quit all school sports and activities because I wanted to be the best in rodeo.

TS: How do you handle pressured situations? At the Professional Rodeos, what is something you tell yourself to stay confident before nodding your head?

TZ: I actually handle a pressured situation better than some relaxed ones. I just let my body take over. At the rodeos I usually just tell myself, “You can do this,” and “Score.” But I find telling others that they are capable to win actually gives me more confidence in myself. I would rather build someone else up and see them win along side me than to meddle on thoughts about how I need to rope. BRJ

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