Kassidy Dennison
Kassidy Dennison

Navajo Barrel Racer Ready for the Bright Lights of the National Finals Rodeo

Rodney Harwood

New Mexico cowgirl Kassidy Dennison will be the first to tell you it’s not worth having if it’s not worth working hard for. Now, the eight-time Indian World Champion is ready to take her place on pro rodeo’s biggest stage at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

Dennison has been the pride of the Dine Nation since she became the first Navajo to win a national championship in break-away roping at the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2010. The 22-year-old in her fourth professional season is now the first Navajo barrel racer to qualify for the NFR.

Let’s just start with what it means for you to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo...You're the first from the Navajo Nation to do so.

It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. It’s pretty special, and I’m excited to represent Indian Country and Native barrel racers. It means so much to me to let our people and people across the world know that you can do anything you’re willing to work for.

Your family is a big part of your success. Your dad Karl helps with the driving. Your mother Debbie is out on the road and older sister Devyn handles the public relations. How important is that to make this run with them at your side?

Getting there wasn’t all roses and [it] wasn’t always what I expected. But it was a great process and great learning experience. It was awesome that my family was right there to see it first hand. That’s what means the most because not everybody that’s been a world champion or made the NFR has had that in their life.

What is the plan of attack for the NFR?

People have been asking if I’m nervous, but I’m not because we’ve seen big crowds before. That’s what makes it just another rodeo. We’ve been competing against the same people for almost a year now. Some people get worked up over the hype, but it’s just another rodeo.

The “we” you are talking about is Eagle, of course, your nine-year-old gelding is a special horse. Tell me about him?

He’s the only horse I’ve been riding this year. We've worked with him since he was five to be more consistent and slow him up a little bit because all he wanted to do was run fast. When you have rodeoed has hard as I did this year, I had to make huge decisions to keep him healthy. I didn’t want to run him if he was sore, which is why we came home three weeks before the end of the season to make sure I had enough horse when I got to the NFR.

You grew up in Tohatchi, New Mexico (population 800) on the eastern most border of the Navajo Nation, just north of Gallup. How do you walk in harmony in a world that’s all about money and schedules?

I was raised traditionally and traditional values are still instilled in me today. I think that’s what separates me from other people. I believe in getting up early and praying for direction, thinking positive thought, and treating people with respect. Those things are more important today.

You have been a professional for four years now. Is it everything you hoped for?

It’s a dream come true to make the NFR, but it was definitely a struggle. Being on the road isn’t what it’s made out to be. It’s not all glamorous, let’s just say that. Sometimes people you’ve looked up to your whole life aren’t the people you thought they were. You tend to see true colors in people. For me, growing up on the reservation and having all these other struggles, I had to work harder to be successful. What keeps me humble is that I don’t want to change who I really am now that I have achieved some amount of success. Making the NFR has been a dream, but getting there really wasn’t what I expected.

You are an N7 Ambassador and a role model in Indian Country. What are your future plans?

I haven’t decided yet, but I plan on going in a different direction and helping other (Native) girls be successful riders or horse trainers. I’ll probably go to 20 rodeos in the next year and see where things are. The whole reason I wanted to make the NFR was to give people hope. Now that I’ve done that I feel like I want to keep inspiring people and keep pushing them to try new things and get out of your comfort zone. I have schools lined up and some motivational speaking engagements lined up. I’m so excited for that. It’s a new adventure in my life that I’m looking forward to.

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