Last summer, Josie Ejchler broke her neck. However, that tragic setback did not stop the now 16-year-old St. Clair High School student from competing and being recognized as one of Missouri’s top teenage rodeo cowgirls.
In fact, the SCHS junior earned a competition saddle, her second, for being the top performer in her age group in the American Family Rodeo Association last fall.
“I had accumulated so many points during the first half of the season that I was still able to manage it during the second half,” said Ejchler, whose injury was a non-rodeo accident that occurred on the Fourth of July last year. “Before I broke my neck, I competed in several events. After it happened, I could only do one event.”
But that one event was good enough for Ejchler, who has been in the rodeo business for about four years, to hang on in the 15- to 19-year-old age group in the AFRA.
According to AFRA rules, points are accumulated throughout the season, which basically is during the summer months. Whomever has the highest point total at the end of the campaign is recognized as the top cowboy — or in this case top cowgirl.
Before her accident, which took place outside Kansas City when her family was traveling to Wyoming to visit a brother, Ejchler competed in barrel racing, pole racing, goat tying, breakaway riding and ribbon roping to compile her points. After the family vehicle had a tire blowout and crashed and after her recovery period, the teenager only could participate in ribbon tying.
“I fractured my seventh vertebra,” Ejchler said of the crash. “It basically crushed my neck.”
But, the accident did not crush her competitive spirit.
“I like the speed of it,” Ejchler said in describing being a rodeo competitor. “I’ve always been competitive, but I was never really interested in the traditional school sports. I love riding horses so this was a good fit for me.
“And I think I’m getting pretty good at it.”
A typical rodeo season at this level includes about 15 to 20 events across Missouri on weekends during the summer.
Besides her two saddles, Ejchler, who is the daughter of Chad Ejchler and Rhonda Wright, has won 14 belt buckles for being the top performer in an individual event over the course of a season. Her first saddle was earned in 2011 when she competed in the 10- to 14-year-old age group and was doing barrel and pole racing and goat tying.
She also has earned cash awards for her efforts and was awarded a $250 scholarship from the American Family Rodeo Association last year.
Ejchler’s ultimate goal is to be a professional cowgirl and compete in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“My long-term goal is to make it there,” she said.
And does she think that can become a reality?
“I think my chances are pretty good if I keep going how I’m going,” Ejchler said.
At that top level, cowgirls only compete in barrel racing. Ejchler said about 10 to 12 women qualify annually.
“You have to earn a spot there,” she said. “I really want to compete at that level.”
In the Beginning
Ejchler was born and raised in St. Clair and spent a lot of time with her grandfather, M.B. Wright, on his 100-plus-acre farm just north of the city limits.
“My grandpa had horses his entire life,” she said. “He got me into it. He actually bought me my first horse and got me into rodeos.
“He is the one who got me doing what I’m now able to do.”
Wright passed away last October.
The horse Wright purchased for his granddaughter, Rosie, is still around, however. The 24-year-old mare is Ejchler’s goat-tying horse now.
“She was my first competition horse,” she said. “I used her for barrel racing when I got started.”
Ejchler has two other horses. Gator is a 22-year-old who now is her main barrel horse. Lady is 13 years old and is Ejchler’s newest addition. She is used for breakaway, barrels and poles.
“Gator and I have been through a lot,” Ejchler said. “He helped me win both my saddles. We’ve gone through injuries together, but we’ve always been able to come back together. He is the horse that really has allowed people to see me compete at my best.
“Lady has been doing awesome, too. During my first season with her (in 2012), I won a breakaway buckle.”
Ejchler continues to spend a lot of time at her grandfather’s farm. Her horses are there.
“I’m here every day,” she said.
She also practices “as much as I can” with her focus these days being mainly barrel racing and breakaway. She practices three to four days a week, she said.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s more fun now than before because I’m getting better. I’m getting the experience. I believe I can win now. I know I can win now.”
When she was 12 and after Wright bought her Rosie, Ejchler went to what she called a “fun show” to see what she had as a rodeo cowgirl. The event took place at the St. Clair Saddle Club.
“I enjoyed it right away,” she said. “I enjoyed the competing aspect. I kept moving on. It really didn’t take very long for me to be hooked, and it’s all taken off from there.”
She won her first buckle at age 14. In all, Ejchler said she probably has won about 40 competitions during her short career.
This year, the teenager is moving up a class and will compete in the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association. From there, she hopes to climb the ladder and end up on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and/or the United Rodeo Association, which are the top levels in the sport.
“I want to make a career out of rodeo,” she said. “I really think I can do it.”