Born into a rodeo family, Shai Schaefer hasn’t always loved the sport. In fact, it took her several years, a health scare and surrounding herself with the right people to even decide she enjoyed breakaway roping, a sport at which she now excels.
“I always roped as long as I can remember. I hated it at first, if we’re being honest. I didn’t like it. It was so hard, there was so many things to remember. I come from a very competitive family, not just in rodeo, but in all facets of sports, so it took me awhile to love the sport because I felt like I was pushed into it so much, so eventually I kind of found my niche, and it was goat tying,” Schaefer said.
Goat tying? Yes, goat tying is a sport that she eventually settled on as a teenager that took her to college on rodeo and volleyball scholarships. However, two sports were too much, so she eventually dropped volleyball. By the time she was a sophomore, she had so much pain in her hips that she couldn’t walk or ride. The surgeries were too new, and her mom wasn’t going to sign off on them. There was only one solution: breakaway roping.
Blessing in Disguise
Schaefer said she was not excited about breakaway roping, but she finally surrounded herself with people who were good riders and ropers and good with horses. She reached outside of her comfort zone and started competing in some rodeos and everything started coming together for her. That’s when she was gifted a little horse.
McGyver is the small horse that some of her friends from southern Colorado gave to her. Schaefer said she had full intentions of riding him for a while and selling him. But for now, he’s won her over and moved up to her number one roping horse.
“He was tiny, he would just run off and was not ‘cowy’ in the least bit. He would never hurt you, but he was just a lot! I needed a practice horse, because I came south for school and was definitely out horse-powered everywhere I went. McGyver ended up stepping up for me and taking my number one role. He was a game changer for me once he stumbled in my life. It took a while. It took about two or three years before I started winning on him, but I couldn’t get rid of him. No one wanted him. Everyone was smarter than I was. It was kind of funny how that worked out,” she laughs as she recalls her early years with equine partner.
“We have such a love-hate relationship. But it’s a good business partnership. You want to baby him, but once you do, he’ll take you a mile,” Schaefer said.
Iron Sharpens Iron
Since she’s moved south, found a good horse in McGyver, and competes nearly year-round in a variety of levels of rodeos and jackpot ropings, Schaefer has discovered that keeping her mental game in focus is still the biggest challenge.
“I am human like any other athlete. I battle my head like any other girl does. I get feedback from the other girls. Your mind is harder to control than controlling this little calf where you have no idea where he is going to run in this arena. It’s hard to forget things that have gone wrong in past runs. So, I try to program my mind – to focus on what I’m going to see on the start. I’m hoping that one step, that step one is going to set up the rest of my run,” she said.
Iron sharpens iron, she said and that is why she appreciates the rodeo family and those around her who challenge her to be better each time she backs into the box or swings a rope. She has listened to Tyson Durfey’s “No Limits” videos, and as a world champion, she knows if he can overcome the mental challenges, she can too. She is still trying to accept that a person can rope well and still not place, but she reminds herself and others to take one step at a time.
“Focus on one skill at time. There are so many steps. You are going to fix one thing and something else is going to go wrong. You are going to wear yourself out mentally, physically, emotionally if you are trying to get all 10 steps absolutely perfect. Sometimes you can have a totally awful, ugly run at a rodeo and you’re going to win first place. Stuff just happens. It doesn’t have to be perfect to win. If you get a couple things right that you really work on and drill and it just becomes muscle memory, it is just going to flow eventually. It takes years. Little victories. I haven’t caught a calf in two weeks, but you know what I did good yesterday? I didn’t break the barrier. So, I will carry that over to today where I’m riding a horse I’ve never ridden before at a rodeo I’ve never been to before and compete like I’ve just won the last five rodeos I’ve been to,” she said.
Good Health Starts Inside
Keeping McGyver and her other horses at the top of their game is vital to staying at the top of Schaefer’s sport. She said recently McGyver was looking thinner than normal. That is when she discovered supplements from Vitalize®.
“When I was riding him – you got to know this horse – if he’s not running sideways in the warmup arena, he’s not feeling good. There was something wrong. I could not get him to even twitch an ear. Then I started with Vitalize, and I started seeing some huge differences in his demeanor. He slowly but surely started getting some life back to him,” she said.
Once she got McGyver feeling better with Vitalize® Equine Digest More® Plus, she put her other horses on the Vitalize products including Vitalize® Alimend®, Vitalize Horse Treats, Vitalize Blazin’ and Hyaluronex® Joint.
The Vitalize products each contain the precision prebiotic Amaferm®, designed to boost animal resilience to challenges. It is research-proven to improve gut integrity and immune response, as well as support normal body temperature and respiration rate. Vitalize Alimend is a natural product that supports gastric health and GI tissue without altering the stomach pH in horses. Vitalize Blazin’ was just launched this summer and is liquid product to support normal recovery from heat stress and exertion in horses.
Hyaluronex Joint provides a completely hydrated, oral, liquid HA formulation, allowing for quick absorption and maximum efficacy to promote joint, bone, soft tissue, and cartilage health. The formula also contains two additional natural ingredients to support soft tissue health and exercise recovery.
Schaefer has compared the results of putting her horses on the Vitalize and Hyaluronex to her husband’s horses, which are only on alfalfa hay.
“You can tell a huge difference in mine compared to his when we’re practicing. My horses are ready for another run every single time. His horses don’t want to go back to the box, and they aren’t horses that have box issues. But you can just tell they just get worked through a little faster, so I can tell the Vitalize is doing what it is supposed to,” she said of her own trial. “Even with hauling I notice a difference. McGyver is not a drinker. Never has been. Since starting him on Vitalize, I’ve had to fill two buckets at every rodeo I’ve gone to, which is unheard of.”
She is also a big believer in the Vitalize Blazin’ for heat recovery. She said when she moved south, she was warned that if her horses weren’t sweating, it was a bad sign. She said with the Blazin’ they still sweat, but they are not soaking in sweat from head to tail.
“I can tell a huge difference in the practice pen and hauling my horses, since they have been on Blazin’. I swear by Blazin’. It is one of the best things you can do for your horse,” she said.
She shared that she had recently talked to a fellow rodeo athlete and who asked about the Amaferm in the Vitalize products; she understood the Amaferm advantage from feeding VitaFerm® to her cattle but didn’t know that advantage carried over into equine products in the Vitalize line.
Sometimes it just takes one thing to find success. One change in plans. One tiny horse. One group of people to call your rodeo family. One nutritional product to keep your horses in top shape. Focus on one skill, one step, one loop at a time, and you will be at the top of your game like Vitalize Ambassador Shai Schaefer.