Kodiaks News · Grace Hill: Lassoing Her Dreams Through Rodeo


Interview below from June 21, 2018

Grace, how long have you been participating in rodeo events?

I have been rodeoing since I was 7, so about 10 years now. My dad took me to a rodeo one day to watch, and I was hooked immediately, and was wondering why he didn’t introduce me to rodeo sooner.


Who got you started?  Who coaches you? Who is your inspiration?

My parents got me started, and my dad is the one who trains all my horses that I compete on. In rodeo, we don’t have hired coaches like we do in basketball or volleyball, so my dad is the one who gives me tips and helps me get to where I am today.


Does your dad have a background with rodeo?

My dad use to be a bull rider and rode bareback horses… he’s a little old for that now, especially after double knee replacements!


How often do you train and how does that look?

I try to ride everyday in the summer. During the school year it is harder because I have to drive an hour in to school everyday, but I try to ride at least three times a week. I ride several horses, so practice looks a little different for each horse I am on. On my roping horses I usually have calves and steers that I can rope, and for my barrel horses I just trot and lope them long distance to get them legged up, and occasionally trot around a barrel pattern to tune them up.


Do you also have to care for the horses each day, like feed them and water them?  How does the care of the horses carve into your daily routine?  

At rodeos, I wake up usually a couple hours before the rodeo to feed the horses and water them. I feed them twice a day, and I also have to clean their stalls once a day so they don’t lay down and get dirty! It’s hard because some days I want to just go hang out with friends, but my dad always makes me take care of my horses first!


What is your horse’s name?  Type? Color?

I have around five horses that I compete on, depending on which rodeos I haul to. Clementine is my barrel racing horse, Boomer is my backup barrel horse, Gunner is for team roping, Iris is for breakaway roping, and Vegas is my pole bending horse. They are American Quarter Horses and all share the same sire (dad) who is also owned by us, Cinnabars.


Describe your events and what is your favorite?

Barrel racing – you race around 3 barrels, if you hit one it is plus 5 seconds to your time. A standard pattern time is about 17 seconds, but patterns can be as small as 13 seconds (it all depends on the size of the arena). Usually the top 5 placings are 0.1 tenth of second off from each other; it goes to show how much 0.1 of a second really means in a barrel race and precision is everything with times that close together.  This is mainly a girls event, but at the pro level guys can compete in it. Barrel racing is my favorite because it involves speed and you are only as good as your horse, and my horse is g-o-o-d.


Pole Bending – you weave through 6 poles each way, and each pole you hit is plus 5 seconds to your time, as well. The pattern size stays constant no matter the size of the arena, and a really good time is about 20.5 seconds. I hardly ever compete in pole bending anymore because it is not an event that you can compete in on a pro rodeo level or in college. This is only a girls event.


Team Roping – this is a team event that requires a header who ropes the horns of the steer, and a heeler who heels the hind two feet. If the heeler only heels one foot instead of two, 5 seconds are added to the time. Also, there is a barrier (a rope) that stretches across the front of the roping box that the header comes out of and if the header breaks the barrier before the steer does, there is 10 seconds added to the run. A really fast time would be around 4-5 seconds long. This is coed, but at the pro level you usually only see guys roping just because they are quicker and stronger when it comes to throwing the rope (they can throw it farther).


Breakaway Roping – this is a girls only event that involves roping a calf around the neck. There is also a barrier, and if it is broke it is an additional 10 seconds. A quick time is around 2.3 – 2.9 seconds.


I know you like competing in Gallup, but why is that?  What makes it your favorite?

I may just like Gallup because I won the barrel racing there last year and Clementine, my barrel horse, loves the ground there. But, the arena is on a Navajo Indian reservation in the middle of a hog back, and there are red cliffs surrounding the whole arena which makes it a really unique place to rodeo. I also enjoy going to all the pawn shops downtown and shopping for turquoise with my mom.


Are there many girls in this biz?  What is life like on the road?

There are more boys in the pro rodeo world just because there are more events offered for them. At a Colorado high school rodeo, there are a total of around 200 contestants, half being girls. The National High School Rodeo membership has approximately 10,500 contestants (including kids from Australia and Canada). At High School Nationals there are about 1500 contestants. The top 4 in each event from every state or province qualify for nationals.   

Life on the road requires a lot of sleep and a lot of driving. If it is just my dad and I, we try to both drive so the other can get some rest. Just hauling to Colorado rodeos, we drive about 12,000 miles a year. If we drive to other states, it usually involves us pulling over and having to walk horses around so they don’t get stiff in the trailer.


What’s the furthest you’ve driven to an event?  

For Junior High National Finals my 7th and 8th grade year we drove to Des Moines, Iowa, which only takes about 12 hours, but with horses we had to stop a lot. Also, my freshman and sophomore year we drove to Decatur, Texas, for a two-day roping event, then straight up to Shawnee, OK, for a week-long rodeo, and then directly up to Gillette, WY, for nationals. This was really draining for my horses, especially my barrel horse because she had to acclimate to the different temperatures and it affected her running.


What are your plans with rodeoing in the future?  College teams?

I hope to college rodeo either for Tarleton University located in Stephenville, Texas, or Texas Tech located in Lubbock. Texas Tech’s girls college team placed second at the College National Finals last weekend, so I would like to rodeo with a group of strong girls like that on my team.


Are you in touch with coaches or trainers with these two programs?  Are you being recruited?

I have not been in touch with the Tarleton coach yet because I have not visited the school, but I am planning on visiting in the fall when I can watch practices. I know the Texas Tech Coach, and I have been in contact with some other coaches that are interested in me, but they will mainly be looking for recruits this summer at the big rodeos such as Gallup and nationals.


Where are nationals this year? When?

Nationals are in Rock Springs, WY. The place changes every two years based on the contract.

Nationals is in the middle of July and lasts for a full week. There are two rounds, and the top 20 based off the average of the two rounds in each event make it to the short go. And whoever wins the average of 3 heads, wins the national title.


What is your pre-event routine like?

Before an event I usually try to keep to myself and just visualize each of my runs. If I am up in a roping event, I will rope either the calf dummy or the steer dummy on foot. Just like humans, each horse requires a warm up. It takes about 15 minutes to warm up, and while preparing the horse physically, I prepare mentally.


How has CSS supported you in this endeavor?

CSS has been very flexible with my busy schedule (I miss a lot of Fridays). All my teachers have fully supported me, they have been easy to communicate with when I miss school work, and they help me to be proactive.


What are some of your favorite awards that you’ve received and why?

In 2015, I won the world championship in barrel racing and the all-around (meaning I had the most combined points total from all my events). I had been going to finals for about 6 years before ever winning a world championship, so I felt that my hard work and dedication finally paid off. Last year, I won The Best of the Best barrel racing championship in Gallup, NM, and this meant a lot because the top girls from all around the country traveled to this rodeo to compete.


Are there rankings in rodeo?  Are you ranked for any events for your age group?  

There are state rankings, and then once you make it to nationals everything starts over, so you are on a clean slate. I won state this year in one event, barrel racing, and placed in the top 4 in three other events, and that’s what qualified me for nationals.


What do you like most about the sport of rodeo?

I love that the people I rodeo with aren’t viewed as competitors, but they’re my family and everyone always cheers for everyone in the rodeo arena. If someone’s horse is hurt, everyone rushes together to offer another horse to ride.


Is there anything else that you would like to share?

This year, I qualified for nationals in 4 events including the team roping, and this was very special because I was the only girl to qualify in the team roping for the state of Colorado. Winning nationals is a big dream of mine, but just to make it to the short go and be in the rope 20 is an accomplishment. I have scholarships from rodeo that I have received from winning certain championships, but I also hope to have scholarship offers from colleges. Texas Tech said they try to give all their freshmen at least $1,000 so then the student can receive in-state tuition which is a major contribution.