Choosing a College Near or Far

by | Feb 9, 2023 | College Rodeo

Hepper [Photo: Dale Hirschman]

The hunt is on!  High School (Rodeo) Seniors are currently searching for the perfect college fit, matching their field of education with a rodeo program that will advance them to the next level. 

College is a whole new adventure from academics to the arena. Some choose to wade into the journey closer to home, while some elect to move a country mile away. The location of a college comes with its challenges and benefits.

Abby Hepper [Photo: submitted]

Abby Hepper from Keene, N.D. cherry-picked a college more than a 1,000 miles away from home to attend South Western Oklahoma State University (SWOSU). Hepper shares her perspective and experience attending a college that far away and her passion for training horses.

When you were out scouting for a college to attend, what credentials were you looking for in the college and the rodeo program?

I looked for a place that would provide me a great education and allow me to keep advancing my horsemanship. A strong draw to SWOSU was the Rodeo Team Head Coach, Michael Visnieski. His support and competitive wisdom in and out of the arena has developed me into a strong competitor.

A bonus to attending SWOSU was having Phil Haugen, well-known horse trainer, in the same town. I had the opportunity to stay at Haugen’s place.  I gained valuable knowledge, riding, and roping with him. 

Could you share your perspective on the challenges and benefits that come from attending a college a fair distance away from home?

I am very close to my family, so being far from home has been the hardest part. However, I know they are proud of me for venturing out and creating my own path.

A few of the benefits I have experienced: meeting new people in the industry, becoming more independent and responsible, seeing the world differently, gaining a new perspective.   

Choosing SWOSU was one of the best choices I have ever made. My two coaches, Coach Visnieksi and Coach Smith, played a major role in guiding and helping me grow in life and rodeo.

It’s okay to take the leap and try something new. You can always go home if it isn’t for you.

You have adjusted well to the college scene and have qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo the last two years in the barrels and are currently seated second in the region standings. What is your daily regimen in and out of the arena to gain continued success?

I keep my head down and do what I feel is necessary to be at the top of my game. Being a part of a successful rodeo team adds to my success. The last two years, SWOSU has been the Women’s Reserve National Team Champions. There is nothing better than being around a team of winners to push us all to be our best.  

Riding young horses has always been a passion of mine. I keep a handful of young horses with me to incorporate into my daily routine. Being able to ride many different horses, at different stages of their training, has allowed me to develop my feel further.   

Even a thousand miles away you have stayed connected to the family’s equine program, Hepper Ranch & Performance Horses, by training the young horses at college. How did you get started training and what keeps you engaged?

My dad, Jeff Hepper, is a phenomenal colt starter and a great teacher.  I was able to watch and learn from him at young age and continue to do so.   

I love every stage of training — from halter breaking the baby, to their first ride in the round pen, to their 10th ride moving cows. It is exciting and extremely rewarding!

My passion has led me to training barrel futurity horses. I’m very fortunate to find some of the best quality prospects in my backyard. Taking horses from our program and building a foundation under them for success is what keeps me hooked and wanting to be better.  I have great pride in my family’s program and strive to showcase the horse’s true potential.

Coy Hepper [Photo: submitted]

Your younger brother Coy was called home far too soon to the arena in the sky. He had a contagious personality and a zest for life.  Coy’s colorful outlook on life left a lasting impact on many. How does Coy continue to inspire you in? 

My little brother Coy inspires me every day. He was so confident in himself and his abilities. He was never cocky but had a very special presence that drew you in. I didn’t realize right away how special that was. There is not a person in the world who had more try and grit than Coy. When his back was against the wall and the only way out seemed impossible, he would do whatever it took every time. There are very few people like that in the world. He was a fierce competitor and a true champion in rodeo and life, I want to be like him in so many ways.

To wrap it up, what is a quote you live by?

A quote my dad told me a long time ago that always rang true to me, “Someone is going to win,  it just as well be you.”

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