On the day before the official opening of the 2021 Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) in Las Vegas, NV, Tatum Ward told her father, Tater Ward, “I’m not going to buy an INFR jacket this year. I’m going to win one!”
A designer jacket is one of the prizes for an INFR World Champion. Ward admits that she was half joking at the time she said this, “but my horse and God had something else in mind and made it a reality!”
In spite of injuries and serious illness shortly before and into the first two days of the Finals, Ward and her horse CC brought home the world title in Ladies Barrel Racing. “I’ve been truly blessed. I didn’t even think I was going to get to compete so winning the world title wasn’t something I was expecting, but obviously I’m completely overjoyed with it!”
Ward has lived on her family’s ranch in Whitehorse, SD, her entire twenty-three years and has been riding horses since she was three years old. She is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and comes from a rodeo family. Her paternal grandfather, her father, three uncles, younger sister Tayla, and older brother Wacey have all actively competed in rodeo. She praises her mother, Laura Ward, for having “an amazing eye for horse prospects.”
She adds, “I would have to say that my mom and dad inspire me most to compete….I have a huge amazing support system stemming mostly from my family and also from my Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation community and South Dakota friends and family…”
Tater Ward, the proud papa of the world champion had this to say, “We are very proud of Tatum and CC and what they have accomplished together. Hard work and dedication and the good Lord’s blessings have carried them through good times and bad.”
Tatum Ward has been competing in barrel racing since she was twelve. She says, “I’ve always had a love for horses and when I started competing the adrenaline rush made my love for horses and the sport that much more addicting.” She won the Jr. Barrels at the INFR in 2012.
This is the fourth year in a row she has competed in the INFR adult finals, a privilege that must be earned. Competitors make it into the annual finals through the INFR tour standings based on money earned through the year. Ward’s winnings placed her in the top 15 competitors for 2021 which allowed her to compete in this year’s finals.
Ward’s success in rodeo has not come easily. Without complaining, she reports, “If you’re rodeoing and have a horse, it’s a lot of responsibility and it takes a lot of sacrifice if you want to do well. There have been many times when I’ve given up going to certain events with my friends and things like that because I’ve had a horse or horses to ride or take care of. My horses always come first. You take good care of them and they will take care of you.”
She continues, “Rodeo is not an easy sport but it’s the most rewarding in many different ways. What I’ve learned from it is there’s a lesson in everything whether you win or lose in your event. There’s always something you can improve on to help make yourself more successful.” Her goals for the future include going back to the finals next year to defend her barrel racing title and also make it to the finals in the breakaway roping event.
She advises any young person who is interested in competing, “Rodeo can teach you many life lessons but it is not for the faint of heart. You have to make sure your horse is always tended and that’s a 24/7/365 job. Rodeo is not the cheapest sport either. There are expenses to taking care of the horses and to hauling down the road to compete at rodeos – not to mention you have to feed and take care of yourself as well. Most times you put in more (money) than you will ever earn or win back but it’s just fun to do and to do it well makes you want to do it that much more.”
In addition to the fun, the priceless life lessons, the prize money, fancy belt buckles, prize jackets, “bragging rights,” and other pluses, Ward adds this, “In rodeo you accumulate an amazing rodeo family over the years – people from everywhere around the states who help you in and out of the arena and are just overall great people.”
To girls and women who want to compete in the traditionally male-dominated sport, she affirms, “There are no limitations (for girls and women in rodeo.) There’s nothing you can’t do as long as you work for it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t!”