Arizona Ridge Rider and Navajo rodeo athlete Keyshawn Whitehorse takes us through his journey into the world of rodeo.
Born on the Navajo reservation in McCracken Spring, Utah, Keyshawn Whitehorse has taken rodeo by storm, scooping up the PBR's coveted Rookie of the Year award in 2018 and competing on the PBR's first all-Native American rodeo team in 2019. Now, the decorated bull rider has joined the Arizona Ridge Riders on their race to the top of the rodeo world.
Whitehorse shares pieces of his past that inspire his future and lets fans in on what goes through his mind as he mounts a bull.
C&I: In 2018 you came away with PBR’s Rookie of the Year. How have you grown since then?
Keyshawn Whitehorse: I think I’ve become more consistent and a lot more relaxed. I’ve been competing for a few years now, and I’ve been able to get settled in and understand my riding ability more. I’ve been able to also grow. I feel like I know how to get better and better every time. I’m getting better at not feeling like it’s a rush and knowing as long as I trust my process, then it’s going to work out.
C&I: In 2019, you made history again by competing on an all-Native PBR rodeo team. What do you cherish about that experience?
Whitehorse: I just feel like we all came together. We all knew that we were representing something more than ourselves, and we just wanted to represent as best as we could. We had each other’s back, because it was one of the few times that we were able to unite and represent more than just ourselves and bull riding.
C&I: Do you have any precompetition routines or traditions?
Whitehorse: When I show up to the arena, the first thing I’m doing is finding the people I recognize and greet them. Then, I try to see what my bull looks like and analyze it. Then, I’ll say some prayers and then take out my gear and get ready to go.
C&I: What do you look for when you’re analyzing a bull?
Whitehorse: The main thing when looking at a bull is how it is acting when it’s standing there. How is its body built? I’ll check whether it’s short or tall, longer in length or a little bit shorter in length, big shoulders or little shoulders. All of that helps me figure out how he might buck and where to put my rope. If he stands pretty calm while I’m standing there next to him, then I can expect him to be pretty calm in the chute. If not, then I can expect him to be a little wild in there.
C&I: Now, you’re competing with the Arizona Ridge Riders. How has that experience been?
Whitehorse: All the staff and teammates seem to get along very well. We all understand what we want in the end, and we’re all willing to put everything out there to get a win. And we all work hard and are all dedicated to our craft, so we know we have the ability to conquer every hurdle.
C&I: Did you grow up around rodeo?
Whitehorse: My dad got a couple bulls when he was young. And he did bull riding a couple times, especially because bull riding is a big part of Navajo culture. It’s just who we are. My uncle had some beef cows, but that was about it. My dad didn’t know much about it. I didn’t know anything about it. So, we were just learning about it together. We were both picking up as much information as we could. He would watch videos of different riders and go to clinics and stuff while he was teaching me. Now, after a few years of riding, I have a lot more experience than he does. But he’s always there to remind me of the basics.
C&I: Did you have a role model?
Whitehorse: Honestly, I think my dad and my mom. They were always there for me, and they always helped me out.
C&I: What about your Native roots do you keep with you while you’re competing?
Whitehorse: I have a little medicine bag and my bow guard on me when I ride. There are things I do and keep with me on tour. I always try to remember where I come from. I think it’s important for anybody, not just Natives. It’s just important to stay true to yourself and not get lost in the world.
C&I: What’s next for you?
Whitehorse: I’m still on my path to winning my first world title, so I’m not gonna stop until I get that done. God willing, that’s in my path, but if not, then it’s not. But I’m going to do everything I can and leave everything out there.
Other than that, I’ve been spending some time teaching at a rodeo Bible camp every year. I’ve been getting asked more and more to teach, so I might dig into that. I’ve also been doing some public speaking for some high schools on the rez. I really enjoy doing that because at least I feel like, if it’s just one kid that takes something away from it, if I can help somebody, pass along some information, teach them something that might get them through life or the next month or two or that they can use to motivate themselves or figure themselves out of whatever it may be, then I’m doing some good.
C&I: What advice would you give to young people wanting to get into rodeo?
Whitehorse: I would say, be all in or be all out. Don’t half-ass it, because rodeo is a tough deal. It costs a lot of money, and you have to be very talented. If you don’t give it everything you have, then you’re wasting your time.
To follow the journey of Whitehorse and his fellow Ridge Riders, check out their Instagram.
Images courtesy of Teton Ridge