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Life in the saddle

Some might say the rodeo arena is in Kelsey Cadwell’s blood. Eldest child to champion steer wrestler and long time pro rodeo athlete Travis “Trav” Caldwell, the 209 is home to the next generation of talent.

Now a senior at Oakdale High School, the 18-year-old recently proved there’s more to her ability than just a last name.

Proving to be right at home in the arena, Kelsey demonstrated not only her skill but experience on the rodeo circuit earning a first place title at the Junior National Finals Rodeo in Barrel Racing last December. A win which came with a purse of $9,000 in earnings, a trailer, a saddle, as well as a championship buckle.

“I’ve been riding my whole life,” the barrel racer said. “My dad rodeoed his whole life, so I guess it’s just in the family.”

It was at the age of 10 that the OHS senior first tried her hand in the arena. An experience she describes as something which she not only enjoyed but felt natural at.

“When I was little I did a lot of different things, like dance and soccer and softball and a bunch of other stuff,” Kelsey said, noting the encouragement of her mother to try different things. “Then once I started rodeo it was like, this is for me. I really fell in love with it.”

A love which is so deep, that the senior spends more of her school year traveling with her horse Jackson to rodeos than she does in the traditional class setting. That’s a fact which she herself recognizes as unconventional, yet thoroughly enjoys.

“It can be really stressful,” she added about missing school. “Most of my teachers are really good about it, but I keep my grades up.”

The senior was adamant about maintaining her presence at Oakdale High.

“Most people that miss as much school as I do just home school,” Kelsey explained, “but I wanted to go to Cal Poly and I couldn’t homeschool and go to Poly.”

A decision which paid off, as Kelsey recently learned she was accepted at Texas A&M, as well as Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She has committed to Cal Poly, where she will pursue a degree in Ag Business. She also intends to participate on the Cal Poly Rodeo team, just as she once did at Oakdale High.

Before the student travels to the Central Coast to college, however, she will continue to work the rodeo circuit, building on her experience and perhaps working one step closer to her ultimate goal.

“I want to try and make the NFR, which my dad did,” she said of her long term goal. “That’s like the Super Bowl of rodeo. It’s the top 15 in the world. I really hope to make it there and I don’t know how long that will take me.”

As the teen continues her final high school semester in her hometown of Oakdale, when not on the road or doing homework, she shared she’s caring for her horses. The family owns a total of seven, four of which Kelsey uses for barrel racing. Her primary horse, Jackson, has proven to be a skillful match for Kelsey. 

“Pretty much from the time I get home from school to sundown, I’m outside with my horses,” she said of her love and commitment for them. “People think that we’re cruel to the animals, but they have a much better life with us than they would otherwise. We love the sport and we love them and without them we wouldn’t have the sport. We take really good care of them. They’re our whole entire world.” 

Later this month, 209 residents can watch the barrel racer’s skill on display as she participates in the Oakdale Rodeo, April 13 and 14. 

“I’m really excited,” she said of competing for the first time in the local event. “It’s like the hometown rodeo and my dad’s won that rodeo.”

Preparing for competition takes not only practice with the horse, it also requires something else. 

“You have to have a really good mental game,” Kelsey said. “I don’t know if a lot of people know that, that don’t rodeo. Mental game is really important in rodeo.”

In that regard, she had a pretty good teacher.

“He has really good mental game,” Kelsey noted of learning from her father. “He’s helped me a lot with that too. So I really admire his mental game.”