Brianna Williams is a first-year student majoring in Ag Business at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She plans to compete in goat tie, barrel racing, and break-away roping in the rodeo season.
She is excited about the rodeo schedule and even more excited about the improved horse barn on campus where she'll house her horse. The West Monroe, La., native said she visited the horse stalls this past spring.
The first event of the Weevil rodeo season happens today through Saturday at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. The UAM team will compete in 11 rodeos this fall and spring, including the Weevil Stampede April 18-20.
Meanwhile, on campus Williams and UAM officials are excited about the upgrades at the facilities.
"They were all panel stalls in there, and these, I mean, whoever built them, they are boarded stalls, and I mean, they are perfect stalls in a way," Williams said.
"Super-duper nice," said Williams of the new horse stalls. "They are some of the nicest stalls I've seen."
This summer, the UAM rodeo horse barn got a facelift with a newly painted roof, a new lighting grid, 16 new horse stalls, and a new paint job in its office meeting room.
"The improvements were a long time in coming," said UAM Rodeo Coach Rusty Jones. Under the blistering 100-degree weather, contract painter Ray Nelson of High Pressure Wash and Paint hosed the entire building with a power wash."
Nelson said the paint should extend the roof's life up to 15 years.
UAM Chancellor Peggy Doss is one of the rodeo team's biggest fans.
"Our rodeo team has an outstanding record of accomplishments, and under coach Rusty Jones' guidance, they're just improving every year, and it's been a wonderful recruitment tool. We made a significant investment in the rodeo horse barn this year," Doss said.
"When students come to the campus to look at our facilities, you want them to feel comfortable with the places that they're keeping their horses, that those are well-protected arenas and they're safe, and you want them to feel that it is as good or better than their arenas at home," she said.
In June, Doss and her husband traveled to Casper, Wyo., for the College National Finals Rodeo, where Aubrey Lee and Cole Skender competed. Both athletes are returning and are expected to compete when the 2023-2024 season resumes.
"We thought investing in the rodeo team would improve our rodeo facilities and help with our recruitment. Rodeo was one of those areas we have been successful in our national competition each year," said Doss.
One of UAM's early rodeo coaches, Paul Francis, recently toured the renovated horse barns.
"The rodeo team had no building or practice arena and would house their horses off campus," Francis said recalling when he was coach.
Francis walked through the horse barn, practice arena, and other parts of the rodeo grounds.
"Very nice. I mean, this was my -- this was always our dream," Francis said. "It was to have a facility like this; we've got a covered work area. We've got the practice arena, and the lights are really nice. I think the students are going to be proud of it."
"I think it will help us in recruiting." Francis said. "The whole idea was that when we started a rodeo program, we bring students from both in and out of state and eventually, the program would pay for itself."
Jones said they are excited about how things are going and seem to be getting better.
"We're optimistic about continuing to make it better around here for the students and the school," Jones said.
Doss is no stranger to the sport of rodeo.
"When I was a little girl, we always had horses, and I just rode the trails. I didn't have an opportunity to rodeo until I was about 35 years old. Then we had two daughters, and they wanted to get into the rodeo business and ride horses. My daughters were always much better competitors than me, but we enjoyed it tremendously and traveled to rodeos around southeast Arkansas and throughout Arkansas," the chancellor said.
"Rodeo teaches young people to not only care for their animals but teaches a lot about responsibility. It's such a family sport that it builds dependability with young people. The investment is more than monetary. It is a testament to the university's commitment to its rodeo legacy," Doss said.
Michael Blazier, dean of the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, spoke of the impact of this investment.
"The rodeo team, a long and active participant in the university's fabric, is now set to benefit from enhanced facilities, better equipped to support their capacity and comfort," Blazier said.
It isn't just the stalls and the barn's exterior that received a makeover. The interior underwent a metamorphosis of its own. Once illuminated by incandescent bulbs, the outdated lighting grid is now replaced with efficient, modern LED lights. This upgrade transformed the barn's ambiance and enhanced its functionality. The older lights were also becoming a safety concern.
The main rodeo office also underwent a facelift in tandem with these changes. A fresh coat of paint and a thorough cleaning breathed new life into the space. The bathroom and shower room were also upgraded so that students could clean up after an early morning practice before classes.
"This investment wasn't just about buildings and paint; it was about fostering an environment that nurtured the aspirations of rodeo athletes." Blazier said. "I know it's had a long history of use, and we've had a lot of great rodeo team members that come through here, and now we're ready to upgrade it for the next generation. It's an investment from the University of Arkansas at Monticello to make higher-order repairs."
The 2023 rodeo team has grown to 15 members this year, including many first-year riders. Jones said he will also have two bull riders this year. Returning is Cole Skender, who placed 5th at the National Rodeo Finals in Casper, Wyo., in June.
Lon Tegels is with the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.