Professional rodeo rider Kaylon Rodriguez spends weeks preparing for a 14-second ride around three barrels.
It's a time-consuming process that requires daily practices with her horse and lots of dirty work in the stable. But, for a lifelong horse lover, it's worth it.
Rodriguez is among about 60 female barrel racers taking part in the Tampa Bay Pro Rodeo at the Florida State Fairgrounds. She'll compete in one event Friday morning. The main shows, with men's bull riding, steer wrestling and team roping, are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Rodriguez, 30, has been barrel racing for nearly 20 years. Her father was a cattle rancher in Polk City, about 45 miles east of Tampa. Riding horses just came naturally.
The wife of a calf-roper and mother of a preschool-age son, she started barrel racing professionally in 2001 and ranked nationally from 2003-2005. She'll bring her young quarter horse, Hearts & Red Roses, to the Tampa rodeo in the hopes of winning $1,000 in prize money.
In an interview from her home, she spoke about the hazards of riding and her aversion to mechanical bulls.
How do people react when you tell them you're a rodeo rider, especially the men?
I'm from such a small agricultural town that everybody's used to horses. But when you go into town and you're shopping and the subject comes up, people are very curious as to what you do and how it happens. Everybody thinks of rodeo as bull riding. So everybody asks me if I ride bulls. People want to know more about it.
Have you ever ridden a bull?
No. I don't think I'm brave enough to do that.
But riding the horses like you do is pretty wild, too.
Yeah, I got bucked off a few years ago and fractured my pelvis. It banged me up pretty bad. You just have to be really careful. You never know. This horse was a 9-year-old. We had known him for six. We don't know what happened. He just bucked me off.
What was your family's reaction when you said you wanted to ride in the rodeo?
When I was younger, I did gymnastics, played tennis — you name it and I wanted to do it. They just thought it was something else that I wanted to try. They were supportive but they didn't go out and spend thousands of dollars because they wanted to make sure this was what I wanted to do. They bought me a few things to get started, and it never went away.
What do you think of mechanical bulls at bars?
I think it's hilarious to watch people to ride them. Down at the circuit finals, we would go watch people ride them and they are hilarious. Usually they had been drinking.
Have you ever been on one?
No, I never have. I wouldn't want to be embarrassed. But I might have to try it one day.
How often do you practice?
It just depends. With younger horses, you'll want them to see the barrels more to get them used to them. I ride my horses every day just to keep them in good shape because you are asking a lot of them when you go out and compete. It's like if you decided you wanted to run a 5K. You'd want to be ready. You don't want them to go out and hurt themselves.
How do you keep a cowboy hat from falling off when you're racing?
Some people put a hat string on it. But you can push it down hard on your head and it will pretty much stay.
Really? How fast are the horses going?
Probably between 30 and 35 miles per hour. It's fast.
And I have to ask. What kind of bra do you wear?
I usually wear a sports bra. I think most of the girls out there wear a sports bra because it's more comfortable.