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Rodeo club offers leadership lessons in a different arena • United States Air Force Academy
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Rodeo club offers leadership lessons in a different arena • United States Air Force Academy

Rodeo club offers leadership lessons in a different arena

Rodeo club offers leadership lessons in a different arena • United States Air Force Academy
Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball rides his horse Ferg in the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club arena, April 29, 2024. Members develop leadership and teamwork skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

By Randy Roughton
United States Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

US Air Force Academy, Colo. – Members of the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club enjoy a break from the rigors of cadet life while spending quality time with their horses. Cadet riders also develop their leadership and teamwork skills which they expect to find useful in their careers as future officers. The rodeo club arena provides another setting where the Academy develops leaders of character.

Some cadets come to the club with years of riding experience; others have never been on a horse. The more experienced members guide the beginners until they feel more comfortable in the saddle. Twice a week the club meets at the 10th Force Support Squadron riding school to clean and care for the horses. During this time, club members discuss challenges with their horses and learn from each other, using concepts they have developed in the classroom and during their training.

Learning from the horses

“You can learn a lot about leadership when you work with animals like horses that can’t talk to you,” said club assistant captain Cadet 2nd Class Colette McClanahan. “Horses can sense whether you know what you are doing. That has a lot to do with being a military leader. Your pilots need to understand that you believe in them.”

McClanahan, along with club captain Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball and Cadet 3rd Class Lauryn Mitchell each came to the Academy with varying levels of experience with horses. But each cadet has seen their skills, both in leading fellow cadets and in leading their horses, improve dramatically during their years with the club.

Cadet 2nd Class Colette McClanahan saddles her horse, Bear, in the barn of the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club.
Cadet 2nd Class Colette McClanahan saddles her horse, Bear, in the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club barn, April 29, 2024. Club members develop leadership and teamwork skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet 2nd Class Colette McClanahan brings her horse, Bear, to a halt in the arena at the US Air Force Academy Rodeo Club.
Cadet 2nd Class Colette McClanahan brings her horse Bear to a halt in the arena of the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club on April 29, 2024. The club meets twice a week and has more than 50 members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet McClanahan

McClanahan, a biology major, started riding horses at age 12 while growing up in Las Vegas. After joining the Academy in 2021, McClanahan transitioned to rodeo activities such as tug-of-war. During her second year she bought her horse Bear.

“Coming here was an escape from The Hill and the rigors of military training and school,” McClanahan said. “I really invested in training and getting to know my horse.”

Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball poses with his horse Ferg from the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club barn.
Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball poses with his horse Ferg from the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club barn April 29, 2024. Club members develop leadership and teamwork skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball lassos a dummy onto his horse, Ferg.
Cadet 1st Class Robert Ball lassos a dummy onto his horse, Ferg, April 29, 2024. The club provides an outlet away from the Cadet Wing to learn leadership and teamwork skills in a different arena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet ball

The rodeo club was at the bottom of the list of six clubs Ball initially signed up for during the Blue Rush club fair at the start of his freshman year in 2020. He admits he was drawn to the cub because first-year members wear civilian clothes in the barn. Before joining Ball, he had only ridden horses. Now, four years later, he is the club’s captain.

“The rodeo club gives us a space to just relax and have some fun with the horses,” Ball said. “The Academy has given me many opportunities that I never thought I would be able to do. I got to ride in a few parades and tie up a bunch of cattle, which is always a fun time. I also met some great friends that I hope to have for the rest of my life.”

Ball purchased his quarter horse, Ferg, from an Academy graduate in 2019. At first, he struggled to get his horse to respond. After receiving expert advice from the horse’s original owner, the two eventually bonded.

“Everything was fine from that point on,” Ball said. “It’s so nice to jump on a horse and be able to trust him and know that he trusts you too.”

The Military and Strategic Studies major will leave for pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi after graduation. Ferg retires and goes to live with Ball’s mother in Cincinnati.

Cadet 3rd Class Lauryn Mitchell poses in front of her horse at the US Air Force Academy Rodeo Club.
Cadet 3rd Class Lauryn Mitchell poses in front of her horse at the US Air Force Academy Rodeo Club on April 29, 2024. Rebel, a quarter horse, is known for his pleasant temperament. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet 3rd Class Lauryn Mitchell sits on the US Air Force Academy Rodeo Club horse, Rebel, in the arena.
Cadet 3rd Class Lauryn Mitchell sits on the U.S. Air Force Academy Rodeo Club’s horse, Rebel, in the arena April 29, 2024. The club provides an outlet away from the Cadet Wing to learn leadership and teamwork skills in a different arena. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Cadet Mitchell

Mitchell’s grandfather introduced her to horses at a young age. He placed Mitchell on her first horse when she was just 2 on his ranch in South Carolina. But when her grandfather died eleven years later, Mitchell stopped riding. Early in her freshman year, Mitchell joined the rodeo club, determined to rekindle the love of horses that her grandfather had instilled in her.

Mitchell, who is majoring in Civil Engineering, rides the club horse Rebel.

“When you’re on a horse, you can breathe and be calm and really breathe and take it all in,” Mitchell said. “After my grandfather passed away, I stopped riding for a long time. When I am in the stable with my horse, it is as if I have a part of him with me.”

See more rodeo club photos.