Eight seconds. That’s how long Shawntay Baldwin has to stay on a bucking bull in order to score.
“My main goal is to stay on,” the 18-year-old Navajo said. “Once they open the chute, I don’t hear anything: not the crowd, not the announcer, not anything.”
Shawntay is already on her way to mastering the combination of strength, balance, endurance and grit necessary to make her mark in a male-dominated sport. In addition to bull riding, Shawntay also competes in women’s steer riding, wild horse racing and barrel racing.
“My goal is to be able to show people that girls can do just as much as guys,” she said. “I want to show the younger generation that it’s OK to try new things, to get out of your comfort zone.”
Shawntay started pushing her own boundaries at age 5, said her mother, Bobbie Ann Baldwin. Shawntay, the youngest of three children each born 10 months apart, saw her older siblings competing in woolly riding and wanted to try it out for herself.
“Rodeo has always been in our family,” Baldwin said. “Shawntay grew up with it, seeing her older brother and sister compete.”
The way Shawntay remembers it, balancing on a sheep provided her first taste of adrenaline. She was hooked.
“I was so small and so scared,” she said. “But I did get a nice adrenaline rush. As I got older, the competition got tougher.”
After her children mastered woolly riding, they moved on to calves, Baldwin said. Eventually they were riding steers and still pushing each other to the next level.
Meanwhile, Baldwin enrolled all three children in ballet classes and encouraged them to learn basketball, baseball, football and wrestling. The variety of sports, she said, provided cross-training and increased Shawntay’s skill in the rodeo arena.
“Even the ballet helped her in rodeo,” Baldwin said of her daughter. “It helped her learn balance and stretching. It helped wake up her muscles.”
Still, watching her youngest child cling to a bucking, 1,500-pound animal is a difficult task, Baldwin said.
“It’s nerve-wracking to watch,” she said. “But to see a woman doing these rough stock events, it’s also breathtaking. She does things that are not typical for women. She has gusto and she’s breaking down walls.”