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ISU Rodeo Team, A Conversation with Head Coach Kindee Wilson-Kananen

KISU's Maclane Westbrooks speaks with the head coach of ISU's rodeo program, Kindee Wilson-Kananen. They discuss the team's success, schedule, and competitive drive that motivates her student athletes.

Not all sports are created equal. Universities often have to make choices on which sports to fund under their athletic department, and while it can be a no-brainer for sports that attract a lot of attention like football or men’s and women’s basketball, other teams don’t generate nearly as much revenue. Idaho State University has 13 varsity teams in its athletic department, but it also has a number of teams that aren’t funded by the school, and instead operate more like a club than a sports team.

I spoke to the coach of one of these teams.

“I’m Kindee Wilson-Kananen, I’m the head coach for the Idaho State University rodeo team. I've been coaching now for three years. We are considered a team but we’re not under athletics. Versus many universities and colleges, rodeo is under athletics.”

Kindee proudly hails from Filer, Idaho. It was in this rural community west of Twin Falls that she developed a love for horses and riding. She went to school in New Mexico, where she collegiately rodeoed and met with success. Eventually she attended graduate school at ISU, and when the position of rodeo coach became available, she took the opportunity by the horns.

I asked her about the ramifications of rodeo not being an official ISU sport.

“It means for the most part we’re self-funded. And that’s where we struggle and where we have to work the hardest is to create the sponsors and the funding to be able to travel because we have a lot higher expenses in general. It’s just the kids are busting it all the time trying to get people to help them, back them. I mean I send hundreds of hand written thank you notes out, things like that, just trying to get face to face contact with people that see the potential of this program continuing so we can continue to get the funding. Because that’s, I think, what sets us apart as a club versus team. Same thing with rugby and baseball. We get great support from campus recreation, and the students and everything here.”

But even with the difficulties of financing the team, Kindee isn’t complaining. She’s actually grateful for the challenges that rodeo faces, as they can help develop the competitive drive and spirit in student athletes that make a team successful.

“But it’s giving them an avenue like if they want to continue this program to get better it also falls on them helping and fundraising as well. It’s almost like helped us even being in the situation that we are like with campus recreation and with the other clubs and teams. Not necessarily having everything handed to us helps us because it helps us continue to get better and continue to push to strive to make people notice the program and notice our accomplishments that we’re doing inside the arena.”

Success through adversity is something that brings the group together and creates a bond between athletes. That’s something Kindee is looking to foster.

“I really try to hone in that we are a team because my kids, to me, are a team. They come together through everything. I mean it can be two degrees and stuff like that and they are out there. They compete, they travel as a team, they compete individually but in the end they come together and we win the women’s team and the men the same way.”

It’s the attitude of battling through adversity, and coming together as a group, that Kindee says spurs the success of ISU’s rodeo team. In her time as coach, they’ve consistently ranked very high in national standings, often in the top 5. And Kindee thinks the program will only continue to improve.

“I feel like it’s just gaining steam as we gain support. I mean ISU has had a great team from, I mean we started in 82 was the first year we had a team. We’ve had women's national championships, men's national championships. Last year we had the national champion breakaway roper. This year I just got back from Casper, and we had third place in breakaway roping in the nation also on our team so it’s pretty cool to go back to back and still be in the top three in the last two years.”

Competing at such a high level is impressive when you consider rodeo isn’t an official school sport. What's more, there’s no official off-season. 

“So rodeo is pretty much all year round. There’s no rest for the most part. They’ll have five college rodeos in the fall and five in the spring, but we’re rodeoing and practicing throughout the entire winter in the snow at all these indoor facilities. In the summertime, a lot of my kids rodeo professionally as well, and so I have a few of my girls rodeo with me professionally throughout the summer and travel and haul together and enter. And then same with my men. They’re doing the same thing. Rodeo and team roping going all over. There’s no breaks for the most part.”

The students’ devotion to rodeo doesn’t seem to come from a desire for fame or notoriety. It comes from a deep passion for the sport and its way of life. Like Kindee herself, the athletes on the team grew up around it, and that’s the kind of thing that breeds a lifelong love.

“I have a lot of kids that come from ranching farming families and they start when they’re a little kid in diapers riding horses and then they go into the junior high level, and then the high school level, and they use the high school level to step them up into collegiate. And collegiate rodeo is a stepping stone for professional rodeo. The two associations work really well together to try to mesh that and create that, like higher competition to prep them for going on professionally. And there’s a lot of athletes that will rodeo professionally and then go back and be back on the ranch. So it’s like the kids are able to go make a run for it and do it while they can and then in return, end up back on the ranch or the farm and just taking care of the same thing.”

It’s because of the dedication and successes of the rodeo athletes, that Kindee would love to see them receive more attention. But that’s not the easiest thing to accomplish, especially when the rodeo schedule doesn't allow for the same amount of home competitions as other sports do. I asked Kindee how the team might get the word out on rodeo.

“The biggest thing, and what I’m really trying to push for is we actually get to host a home rodeo, in the fall. It’s in September, it’s usually on the 17th or 18th every year. We try to kind of get it out there for everybody cause we would love to get more people behind us community wise to come see these kids. I mean, for our college rodeos we’ll have over 350 contestants here for two or three days which brings in income and revenue for the community. Stuff like that and in return I would love to be able to get the whole community kind of behind us and have a good time, like, I want to have like a band and a dance this year to get people out and understand like the western heritage at the college rodeo. Just get people involved to see want they do because where we only have that one chance in the fall and then most of the time we’re on the road, it’s hard for people to see what we’re doing versus just always social media and uploading videos and competition stuff. Like, I want them to feel it and see it in person and meet these kids because they are so special. We are only as big as the support behind us and the community around here is great, and if we can give them more knowledge of our competitions, our home events, like, do more events even here locally, I think that would be a huge thing.”

For more information on Idaho State University’s rodeo team, visit

A communications student here at Idaho State University, Maclane has had a lifelong interest in radio. From listening to old time radio of decades past, to the modern commercial sports talk, country, or top 40 stations, the small town community stations, and now getting involved in public radio, Mac knows there's plenty to appreciate and learn about.