One day, Haley Ganzel will settle down in her new home in Collinsville, Okla., raise a family and remember all the great and wonderful memories she made while on the pro rodeo circuit.
Today is not that day, though.
But Ganzel felt the pang of being away from home for the first time last week, when she and fiancé Shane Proctor left their home to begin a three-month journey that will lead them through the American Southwest and Northwest.
Proctor, who is an all-around competitor on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, began his summer season in the Midwest before finding his way to Montana.
Ganzel started hers in Silver City last weekend, as the trick rider entertained fans at the Silver City Pro Rodeo before reaching Santa Fe on Monday night to get ready for the 70th Rodeo de Santa Fe.
She will be a part of the specialty acts in between sessions at the rodeo, which kicked off Wednesday at the Santa Fe Rodeo Grounds and continues through Saturday.
Ganzel said she has missed leaving her friends and family behind to hit the road for several months before, but the departure was different this time.
“I think it was the first time I got sad about leaving, not that I don’t love what I do,” Ganzel said.
And becoming a trick rider — primarily as a Roman rider in which she rides with each leg on a separate horse — was something that she seemed born to do. Ganzel watched her uncle, Shawn Brackett, perform as a trick rider and started learning the tricks of the family trade at the age of 4. She started performing at rodeos the following year and it has been that way since then for the 24-year-old. The rodeo is also a family tradition: Her dad rode bulls and her grandfather competed in the saddle bronc.
“My entire family was in the rodeo world,” Ganzel said. “My uncle was the one who chose to do what I do, though. So, he was out practicing and starting his career, and I was 5 years old, watching what he did day in and day out and trying to do what he did. And I got in trouble for it.”
However, Ganzel’s family decided that if she was going to commit to it, she was going to do it right. Brackett was her trainer, and the act that she performs is very similar to his. One thing that she feels distinguishes her act from other trick riders is speed.
“There are lots of trick riders around, so everyone is going to do some things similar,” Ganzel said. “Riding fast horses is my biggest thing. I want them to go fast — not that I’m the only one who does.”
Another unique feature involves fire, as she rides her horses over flaming staffs as well as through an encircled ring of fire.
“I am the only one out there that doing that,” Ganzel said. “There are people out there who have fire jumps, but they’re U-shaped and don’t have the top on it.”
Several years ago, Ganzel asked Brackett if she could use his dancing horse, Crazy Cloud, that was a part of his act. It took some time, but she incorporated him into the act as he marches and bows and dances on his own — or as Ganzel calls it, “at liberty.” While it’s part of the show, Ganzel said the performance has a story behind it — reenacting the Trail of Tears, as the Cherokees were forcibly relocated from the Southeast to Oklahoma in the early 19th century — that is close to her and her family’s heritage as Cherokee Indians.
Ganzel said she takes it very seriously, and even reached out to tribal leaders for their blessing.
“It’s special, but then, I also have the criticism that I don’t wear the authentic clothes,” Ganzel said. “But I went through the Cherokee system to make sure it’s OK. There are still some people that criticize it.”
The criticism does not dampen Ganzel’s enthusiasm for her job. In fact, she sees herself doing it for several more years before settling down. Ganzel is close to finishing her degree as a special-education teacher, but she has spent the last year and a half dedicating herself to furthering her dream.
She said the rush she gets from an excited crowd is something that is hard to beat.
“I love making the crowd smile,” Ganzel said. “Just giving them something they wouldn’t have before. Or if they are having a bad day, I get to make it a little bit better for five minutes. Just hearing the crowd is a huge adrenaline rush, but it’s also the satisfaction that I am doing my job right. And this is why I’m doing it.”