Nebraska Tough: Breakaway Roping and All-Around World Titles
Nebraska girls have been making waves at the junior high and high school levels this summer. It started in Perry, Georgia, with three girls who placed top 10 in the breakaway average at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, a Rookie All-Around Cowgirl, and the girls’ team placing fourth overall. Then Kieley Walz brought it home with a breakaway roping world title at the National High School Finals in Gillette, Wyoming, while the women’s team placed eighth.
Winning was on Walz’s mind from the moment she arrived in Gillette. Backed with hours of practice, work and mental preparation, she was confident she knew what she had to do. At state finals she was focused on qualifying for nationals; however, after she made it, “it was all or nothing,” she said.
During the week she spent her time with friends, roping the bale with her dad and taking notes on every calf during the performances. When it was time to rope, she’d visualize the run she planned on making while warming up her horse. Her dad would meet her behind the box to talk about the game plan, “before every run, it was me and my dad back there.”
Backing into the box, she’d remind herself of three things, “just do the best you can, don’t over think it, never safety up.” Which certainly paid off after roping her first calf in 1.97 seconds; she won the round, but she wasn’t done yet.
Walz went on to post the fastest time of the week in the second round, 1.95 seconds. This was the calf she was the most nervous for, “I could feel my blood pumping everywhere, through my ears and my chest,” she said.
However, her all or nothing mindset prevailed, and the stress that had built up all week was relieved. Going into the short go she was four tenths of a second ahead in the average and knew all she had to do was catch. Although she may have had room for another swing, in true Kieley fashion, she let it all hang out there in two swings and 2.27 seconds to claim her world championship.
Walz took a commanding lead in the breakaway throughout the week and never let off the gas. Her 12-year-old mare Bella, who started as a barrel horse but found her calling roping calves, stayed solid for her all week. Bella’s training was a “family effort,” Walz said. She’s by their stud Ima Firefighter, who stands at Walz Performance Horses, her family’s horse ranch in Ainsworth, Nebraska.
The competition she’s grown accustomed to in Nebraska prepared her mentally and physically for the finals. “It’s awesome that it’s tough, it pushes us all to do good.”
Kieley’s mother Sonya Walz is swinging a rope again after a few years out of the game. Raised on a ranch near Reva in Harding County, South Dakota, she attended Harding County High School and the University of Wyoming. She rodeoed her entire life and qualified for the high school and college finals in breakaway. She also earned NRCA and mid-states’ championships. Her daughters have now inspired her get back into roping. “Now that my daughters are such intense ropers, I have gotten back into it myself as well,” she said.
Sonya is married to Jim Walz, a Cornhusker and their youngest daughter Kinsey recently finished 20th in the barrel racing average at the National unior High Finals rodeo on another home-grown horse, “She’s a Firefighter.”
Although Nebraska is her home now, “South Dakota will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said.