Echard builds confidence and bond with horses through rodeo

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Keagan Echard, of rural Farmersburg, has been competing in rodeo since sixth grade. She started in poles and barrels, and has now added goat tying and breakaway roping to her repertoire. (Contributed photos)

Keagan Echard’s favorite part of rodeo is forging a bond with her horses, each of which has its own personality. “When I’m happy, I go work with horses. When I get mad, I go work with horses. They relieve my stress,” she said. “Having a bond with an animal is definitely the best part.”

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


If it’s a weekend in early May through late October, odds are good you’ll find Keagan Echard at a rodeo.


The MFL MarMac sophomore, who lives in rural Farmersburg, started competing in sixth grade, first in poles and barrels. Now, she’s added goat tying and breakaway roping to her repertoire. Echard placed ninth and 12th, respectively, in those two events on the 2022 Little Britches of Wisconsin (LBW) rodeo circuit.


Echard grew up riding horses with her family. Rodeo seemed like a natural extension for that passion.


“They were on our farm and I thought, ‘Maybe I should do something,’” she recalled.


Barrel racing involves running through barrels on horseback in a cloverleaf pattern, starting at either side, while pole bending takes the rider around six poles positioned in a straight line. In both events, there is a five-second penalty for each barrel or pole that is knocked down.


Breakaway roping tasks the competitor, when a barrier drops, with riding after a calf and throwing a loop over its head. As the rider pulls up her horse, the running calf breaks the string and the rope falls free from the saddle horn. All this must be completed in a set time limit, abiding by all the rules. For example, ropes must be released from a contestant’s hand to be a legal catch, and the horse must clear the box before the loop is thrown. A 10-second fine for a broken barrier is also assessed.


In goat tying, a contestant must string a goat’s front leg first, then cross and tie any three legs with a piggin’ string. There must be at least one wrap around all three legs, finishing with a half hitch or hooey knot.


While this fast-paced action might be intimidating to many, “competing and actually doing the events wasn’t scary at all,” Echard admitted. “It was more of being in front of people, having a crowd that was going to watch me. That was intimidating.”


Echard has been lucky to work with some good horses. 


“To start in poles and barrels, I was lucky enough to have a ‘button’ horse who would do whatever I asked. I did a lot of practicing with her, going around the barrels, but she was so broke she did whatever I asked,” Echard explained. “I just got new horses last year for barrels and poles and I’m using a new horse this year for goats and roping. The new horses I got for the fast events, they’re a lot more work. I have to do drills a lot with them and keep their mind off barrels, because if they go onto barrels, then they get too dramatic—they’re kind of drama queens.”


Added Keagan’s grandma, Pat Echard, “They’re broke, but Keagan actually teaches them how to do the barrels and poles. She kind of self taught herself to do that.” 


Echard said it’s common to use multiple horses for rodeo events.


“When I started, I was very set on riding one horse, but that’s really hard to do. Like, to get a barrel horse to be calm enough to rope, because a lot of times barrel horses can get very hot, it makes it difficult to sit in a box and wait for the calves to run out,” she detailed. “Now, I have a horse for each competition.”


According to Echard, Luke Carlson at C5 Arena in Decorah has been a rodeo mentor, giving her tips on working with her horses and on events. Fellow rodeo competitors and their families have also been helpful.


“There’s a girl in Bellevue, and I’ve stayed at her house and her mom helps me with barrels and poles,” Echard noted.


A key part of rodeo, though, is building a relationship with the horses and learning their personalities.


Typically, Echard works with each one about an hour every day, either in the pen at home or at C5.


“My first horse was my best friend. Every single day, I’d ride her. She was awesome and had a sense of humor,” Echard said. “She just passed away here.”


Her new barrel horse, on the other hand, is dramatic.


“I like him, and we get along really well on the ground. But we kind of butt heads when I’m riding him. He’s very stubborn,” Echard said. “This new horse for goat tying and roping, she came out of the one who just passed away, and she’s so much like her mother.” 


Echard joked that male and female horse personalities aren’t all that different from humans.


“The mares are like, ‘OK, we’re going to do this. It’s going to be my way or the highway. This is how it’s going to be done.’ They’re very sassy,” she shared. “The guys are like, ‘I don’t feel like doing that.’”


Echard has competed in some jackpot events at C5, but overall there are few rodeos in northeast Iowa. And Although Iowa has a high school rodeo circuit, Echard said most events are in the southeast part of the state, making travel difficult. That’s why she’s opted to compete on the closer LBW circuit in Wisconsin.


The Echards typically leave for rodeos on Friday evenings or early Saturday mornings. Events begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and go through the evening, then continue from 9 a.m. to around 3 p.m. on Sunday.


Echard competes in the senior division, which includes 14 to 18 year olds. Fifth through eighth graders are in the junior division, while kids as young as six make up the peewee group.


“The Little Britches circuit is one big family,” she described. “Everyone is competing against each other, but it’s one big family.”


Echard has enjoyed sharing her passion with girls who have similar interests. Although she discusses rodeo with friends at MFL MarMac, Echard said the school has no other competitors in her timed events.


“There are kids who do rodeo, but they do rough stock,” like bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, she added.


Echard plans to continue rodeo through high school, then later compete in college. 


No matter where this interest leads, she’ll always appreciate how rodeo has grown her confidence and forged a bond with her horses.


“When I’m happy, I go work with horses. When I get mad, I go work with horses. They relieve my stress,” she said. “Having a bond with an animal is definitely the best part.”

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