Afton cowgirls get 'Tough'
Kati and Kasey Stewart, of Afton, have been riding horses since shortly after they could walk.
"We got a little pony when we were 5 years old," Kati said. "Our parents have always had horses."
Now Kati, 21, and Kasey, 19, have given up their pony for rodeo horses - and are ready to hit the big stage.
Kati and Kasey Stewart will be competing in the World's Toughest Rodeo Feb. 3-4 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the barrel racing event.
The World's Toughest Rodeo features both men and women competing in a variety of rodeo events including: bull riding, bareback, bucking broncos, trick roping and rodeo clowns.
"We always used to get tickets to (the World's Toughest Rodeo) when we were kids," Kati said. "We never thought we'd be able to run there."
Kasey began competing in rodeos when she was just 10 years old and Kati started when she was 11.
Kati and Kasey both have multiple horses that they ride.
The sisters gradually progressed through the rodeo world competing with 4-H, high school rodeo and college rodeo. Now the sisters compete at the professional level.
Whereas Kati has always done just barrel racing, Kasey said she has tried out the other events such as pole bending and goat tying.
"You have to put just as much time and effort into each event," Kati said.
However, at the college and professional level, barrel racing is the only event for women.
"The girls kind of get shafted," Kasey said.
Both Kati and Kasey said they love the competition side of rodeo, but they also just enjoy trying to improve their riding.
"You're there to have fun, but you do think about your run beforehand," Kati said. "You think about what you want your run to look like, but you don't want to psych yourself out.
"Sometimes you just have to take step back and reassess the situation."
Kasey admits though that she is the more competitive of the two sisters.
"I'm really competitive, so I get into it," she said.
On average, the Stewart sisters said they train approximately 30 to 40 hours per week, typically riding every day.
"I love the teamwork it takes to get to the level of where they're at," Kati said. "It's a lot of long hours in the saddle."
Both sisters said their rodeo training can interfere with friends, family and schoolwork.
"But we're fortunate that a lot of our friends, and our family, are involved with horses," Kasey said.
In their off time, both Kati and Kasey attend college - Katie at Oklahoma State University and Kasey at Black Hills State University.
The sisters also do training and breeding.
"I love teaching the young riders where all the buttons are and how to ride," Kati said.
Both Kati and Kasey have experienced their share of injuries as part of the rodeo.
Both sisters have fallen off horses, have been kicked and have even had horses fall on them.
"I tend to fall on my head," Kati said. "It's not a good plan."
Another challenge the Stewart sisters face in the rodeo ring is strictly where the rodeo is.
"The ground varies from every arena," Kati said. "Different factors come into play wherever you go."
Kasey said one factor that oftentimes hinders other riders is the location of the bull ring during the events. Bulls can be caged right next to the first barrel, which will spook a lot of horses.
"But our horses don't even look twice at anything," she said. "They're so seasoned."
Both Kati and Kasey said they intend to continue competing in the rodeo professionally for as long as they able.
Kasey said she knows of some riders who compete well into their 60s.
"I just love the atmosphere at the rodeo," she said. "They really pump you up when you run."
The World's Toughest Rodeo is Feb. 3-4 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $17 to $80. For more information, visit http://www.bullsandbroncs.com. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.wtrodeo.com.