By: Kendra Santos
Rodeo has always been a family sport. In many if not most cases, contestants come from a long, multi-generational line of cowboys and cowgirls. There are several sets of siblings competing here this week at the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas, where champions will be crowned tonight to the tune of $60,000 each. We’d like to introduce you to two pairs of sister aces who made the trek to The Entertainment Capital of the World from North and South Dakota.
The Heart Sisters
Native cowgirls Maelee and Eskie Heart come from the wheat, soybean, corn and sunflower farmland country of Parshall, North Dakota. They live on a reservation, and belong to the MHA Nation, which includes three affiliated tribes—Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. Maelee, 21, and Eskie, 18, are both team roping here at the WRWC. Eskie is heading for Maelee, and heeling for Bailey Kretschmer, who’s three-time World Champion Heeler Jade Corkill’s little sister. Maelee is also heading for North Dakota’s Kyanne Hampton, which means both sisters are roping both ends.
“My dad started me roping, then we got Eskie going,” said big sister Maelee. “She started off heeling, then learned to switch back and forth, like I always have. Eskie wanted to get out of her comfort zone, too, and here we are roping with the best women in the world.
“I rope just for me. It’s what makes me happy. I love it, and I enjoy it. I’d like to return to the Women’s Rodeo World Championship next year (the third annual WRWC will be held in May of 2022 in Texas), and try to go for the all-around (which comes with a Coat’s trophy saddle and $20,000 bonus). I also love breakaway roping, and I think if I keep pushing and practicing, I might be able to go for it.”
Stepping onto the same grand stage as some of the Heart sisters’ heroes is providing plenty of inspiration to crank it up a notch in the goals department.
“I’m really excited to be here, and this is a really big step for my roping,” Maelee said. “I kind of quit roping for a while, and I’m just kind of getting back into it. The WCRA having the Challenger Division in addition to the Pro Division gives all women ropers a chance. My sister’s the one who pushes me to rope, so I thought, ‘Might as well try big.’ Being here is a really big deal for us.
“All of the women I’ve looked up to are here—JJ Hampton, Lari Dee Guy, Jackie Crawford. I look up to some of these younger ladies, too, including Kaitlyn Torres, who’s only 13 and is very, very talented. All of these ladies can really rope up. To compete alongside of them is an honor. We’ve worked until our idols have become our rivals. Now we’re here, and we’re ready to go for it.”
Maelee and Eskie caravanned the 26 driving hours it took from North Dakota to Nevada—horses Blue, Pouya and Chairman in the trailer—with Grandpa Hubert Heart and a large support system of family and friends.
“My grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, mom and dad are always behind Eskie and me,” Maelee said. “We wouldn’t be here without them. They’re all here, except Mom and Dad.”
Their parents, Corrine and Royce, couldn’t make the trip. They’ve been at a trauma center in St. Paul, Minnesota, the last month and a half after Royce was struck by a car going 80 miles an hour while he was walking down the road. His right leg had to be amputated from the knee down.
“We’re doing this for Dad,” said Maelee, who also won the all-girl roping at the recent Wrangler Team Roping Championships with little sister Eskie. (Surprise! Dad arrived today!!)
Eskie’s most-respected cowgirls list is all here on the WRWC roster.
“I’ve looked up to so many people entered here—Jackie Crawford, Hope Thompson, Whitney DeSalvo, JJ Hampton,” Eskie said. “I’ve looked up to all the women since we started roping. I wanted to be one of the best, like they are, and have my name just as known as their names.
“I don’t look up to anymore more than my big sister. But I do think there’s more pressure roping with my sister than anyone else. You always want to do your best for family. I feel like if I mess up for Maelee, I really let her down. But getting to back into the box with your family is one of the best feelings in the world. We’re a team at rodeo and in life.”
Eskie’s setting her roping and rodeo sights high.
“My ultimate goal would be to win a world title—especially with my sister,” she said. “Roping at this rodeo here this week is a start. This is one of the biggest-deal arenas I’ve ever been to. It was really scary for me to back in the box for the first time here. It feels exciting. I kind of got the jitters out of the way. I’m ready to rope.”
The Engesser Sisters
The Engesser sisters—Taylor, 26, and Rickie, 24—are here in Vegas from Spearfish, South Dakota. Taylor’s breakaway roping and heeling for Rickie. Rickie’s breakaway roping and heading for Taylor. These daughters of Punky and Shorty Engesser—who are big sisters to team roping brother Jace, 22—brought a brigade of horses here to do two-event battle. Rolo, Matt, 2Hot and Trixie are ready to roll. The Engessers are cowgirls and scholars. When Taylor’s not roping, she’s nursing people back to health.
“I work on the general floor at Monument Health Spearfish Hospital,” she said. “I’m a medical surgical nurse, which basically means we cover everything in the hospital. We take care of neuro, gastro, heart—anything and everything, just not to a super-specific degree.”
Taylor’s traveled to work in some Texas hospitals, too.
“Rodeo has definitely helped me in enormous ways in nursing, including how I communicate with patients,” she said. “You can tell the difference between nurses who love their jobs and genuinely think this is their purpose in life, and those who just work for the money. In rodeo, you have to learn to talk to people. The only way to make friends is to go up and say hello. In the hospital, I’m comfortable talking to people from any walk of life. Communications skills and work ethic are two huge ways rodeo has translated to nursing and life.
“In nursing, you have days when you feel like you’re drowning the whole entire time. We work our butts off in rodeo, and we keep going, even when we’re tired. And you don’t always win in rodeo, I don’t care who you are. It’s the same way with nursing—you can do everything you possibly can for a patient, and sometimes it’s just not enough. But you have to push on, so you can do your very best to help the next patient.”
The Engesser sisters played sports through high school.
“I played volleyball and basketball,” Taylor said. “Rickie played everything you can imagine, because she’s stupid athletic. When you play team sports, you grow to love your team as your family and friends. In rodeo, you practice every day as a literal family. Some days you want to kill each other, but you always have each other’s best interest at heart. Other people say, ‘Hey, good job.’ It’s different coming from your family. Rickie and I stand in the box with each other. If she wins a rodeo, I’m going to be the first one to give her a hug and a high-five. I genuinely want to see her do her best every single time.
“Rickie and I push each other. We make each other better. We compete against each other at home all the time, and it only makes us more ready to come compete. Having a sister and brother to rope with and train horses with since day one has been a huge advantage. I don’t know what I would have done without my sister and brother. I know I wouldn’t be as competitive without us pushing each other all these years.”
I remember watching the coolest rodeo example of sharing among siblings at the 2014 College National Finals Rodeo, when I was in the stands watching my sons rope and bulldog. The Engesser sisters were sharing a spectacular sorrel horse they called Rowdy, and he was going back and forth from Taylor’s CNFR (she was rodeoing for Gillette Community College at the time) to Rickie’s South Dakota State Finals Rodeo in Belle Fourche. By week’s end, Rowdy and his Sisters Engesser had taken both titles. Having watched these girls grow up from the grandstands at so many major youth events, I can vouch that they spelled double trouble for all takers.
“Growing up, I watched my big sister have a lot of success in junior high, Little Britches, in high school and on to college,” Rickie said of Taylor. “I always wanted to have the same success she did. Taylor having a ton of success helped motivate and push me. I got to watch her and learn from her. She taught me about every aspect of rodeo—how to do everything; mindset, goals, all of it. She helps me in every aspect of life, too. Taylor was my role model. She still is. Growing up with someone like Taylor, and having an older sister like her has been a huge advantage.”
All cowboy and cowgirl contenders are both physically and mentally tough. These two are true to that statement.
“We all go through spurts where we struggle, but no one stays in a slump forever,” Rickie said. “You just keep saying to yourself, ‘Just make one run and get out of this slump.’ To stay mentally strong, you have to have some people who help you cope with it all. Being able to go to your brother or sister or parents is the best. When I’m struggling, I’m mad. This is our passion. This is our lifestyle. Rodeo is what we love to do.
“The people who keep picking you up after the bad runs are the people who keep you going. There was a time this summer when I was in a slump. Taylor was kicking butt and doing good. I cheered for her and was happy for her, and she was right there to help me. I worked my way out of that slump, and Taylor was my biggest fan. Feeding off of one another and setting goals together keeps pushing us to be better.”
Besides riding rope horses, Rickie’s been busy finishing up her master’s degree in agricultural and consumer resources at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, with the hopes of becoming a sales rep for a large animal vaccine company. While cowgirls like the Engesser sisters go after their goals beyond the arena, events like the Women’s Rodeo World Championship allow them the chance to compete at the highest level on the largest, richest stages in rodeo right now.
“An event like this one gives girls at all levels an amazing opportunity,” Rickie said. “You have your pros and you have your challengers. This is a great gathering of talent in women’s rodeo, and people who aren’t at the pro stage yet still have a chance. The money that’s up for grabs here this week says so much about how rodeo is expanding, and we all appreciate the WCRA taking a chance on women. They’re seeing how many of us will show up, and we’re thankful for that.”