by Tina Ding

Cowgirls Britany Fleck and Kennedi Kautzman fell in love with horses and rodeo as young girls. Scarcely five, they each sat atop horses and paid close attention to the wonders of rodeo as well as the daily chores and hard work that goes hand in hand with horse rearing.

Her love of horses encouraged Mandan cowgirl Britany Fleck to start competing early. As she moved cattle and helped out at home, she started riding in youth rodeos. Stepping through the ranks of youth rodeo through high school and college, she dreamed of one day riding professionally. Fleck also began to realize the importance of developing a strong partnership with her horse. “You have to be in sync with them to be tough in competition,” she said.

While in college, Fleck trained her horse ‘Rootie’, fostering a strong relationship between the two of them. Stepping up to the plate to care for a horse requires dedication. In addition to riding and brushing her horses, she waters them, feeds them and cleans up after them; all keep Fleck moving and help to keep her fit and physically prepared for this lifestyle.

“From carrying water buckets and lifting bales to cleaning stalls, cleaning the trailer and riding, horse care is hard work,” Fleck said. “As we travel [to rodeo competitions], we are faced with locating and purchasing hay, which can be both challenging and expensive while we’re on the road.”

Horses need regular exercise and proper nutrition, particularly when competing. While Fleck works out at a gym and takes a daily vitamin, her horse relies upon her for regular workouts and supplements. Rootie has hay in front of her all the time, takes a platinum performance supplement, chomps on omelene grain and takes in ample water. Along the way, Fleck changes up the routine, ensuring Rootie is in optimal health. And she shares what she learns with cowgirl Kennedi Kautzman.

“In rodeo both the horse and rider need to be healthy,” Kautzman said. “The real athlete is the horse, so as riders, we treat them like an athlete by conditioning and feeding them properly. They take nutrients and vitamins, just as we do. It’s a huge team effort between rider and horse.”

Kautzman knows how to work hard physically. She regularly walks out and back to catch the horses at pasture before carrying five gallon buckets of water to each of five horses. Five-mile lawn trots (daily) as well as carrying grain, exercise both the rider and horse. And she’s not nearly finished with her chores.

“Kennedi goes directly to the barn after school each day,” mother Jodi Kautzman said. “She cares for each horse then practices each individual event with her own. When she practices goat tying, she rides up, dismounts, runs to the goat, ties it off and keeps moving. There isn’t a lot of down time for her, no time to get in trouble.”

Kautzman pays attention to staying nutritionally sound as she travels. Staying hydrated is her first priority, with plenty of water and sports drinks. “We eat a lot of meals right in our living quarters instead of always eating out as we travel,” she said. She works hard with her horses year round, yet enjoys swimming and hanging out with friends in the summer in addition to volleyball and basketball seasons.

Despite the competitive nature of rodeo as a sport, Kautzman finds she has a true role model in Fleck. “She’s become such a good friend to our family and we trust her to know how to best keep horses healthy and which feeds work best,” Kautzman said. “She’s such a great cowgirl that inspires so many cowgirls out there. I find that I’m aspiring to be like her.”

Fleck and Kautzman have become friends and spend time together when at home. Fleck rides professional rodeo and currently holds the 15th position in the world for barrel racing. As a career, she’s riding and traveling with Rootie year round across the nation and into Canada, and hopes to find herself at Las Vegas for nationals.

Kautzman is right behind her. Stepping stones take area youth from the Mandan Horse & Saddle Club to the junior high and high school levels. She’s preparing to enter the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association this fall as she enters high school.
Both young women are determined to stay healthy, ride and compete at professional levels. Kautzman’s hard work is paying off – she’s the 2010 and 2011 Girl’s All Around State Champion, 2009, 2010, 2011 Barrel Racing State Champion, 2010 Pole Bending Champion, 2011 Girl’s Goat Tying State Champion and 2011 Ribbon Roping State Champion (with partner Trey Huber). As a woman in professional rodeo, Fleck is limited to barrel racing, where she is placing in world ranks. Their hard work and dedication to both their own health and that of their horses is paying off. These gals are living their dream and focusing to achieve their ultimate goals in rodeo. For Fleck, that’s making it to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas; for Kautzman, it’s the National High School Rodeo Association.