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Kaila is a card-carrying professional saddle bronc rider, currently the only woman to hold that distinction in both the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association. Now in her mid-30s, she’s been at it for more than a dozen years. Like most of her cowboy competitors, the native of Chilliwack, British Columbia in western Canada competes more for pride than for paychecks—her “real job” is as a personal trainer and a jane-of-all-trades.
Kaila got the rodeo gene from her father, Jack Mussell, a former saddle bronc rider who sometimes serves as her coach and chute helper—and always as inspiration. Her older brother, CEJ, also competed in roughstock riding. Kaila started her arena career as a barrel racer, but was equally drawn to the rough-and-tumble end of the oval where she rode steers. Her inclination toward dare-deviltry solidified when she reached driving age.
“At 16, I quit barrel racing and became a professional trick rider,” she says. “At that time, there weren’t any modern day examples of women saddle bronc riders, although there had been several in the early years of the 1900s.”
Indeed, in the first quarter of the 20th Century, a handful of women gained fame in the “cowgirls saddle bronc riding” at rodeos such as Cheyenne Frontier Days and Madison Square Garden in New York. But the event fell from favor when arena star and rodeo champion Bonnie McCarroll was killed while riding in an exhibition at the 1929 Pendleton Oregon Round Up.
Kaila took up the sport not so much to serve as inspiration for others, but for the personal challenge and gratification that comes from a good ride.
“I am pretty strong and muscular for a woman,” she said. “Saddle bronc riding is about balance and timing. If you get in time with the animal, everything flows and it feels good.”
Of course, things don’t always go her way. In the rodeo game, injury is ever present and Kaila has had more than her fair share of mishaps. Her list of medical woes could match those of any Jackass cast member: a torn anterior cruciate ligament, two shoulder dislocations, two collarbone breaks, a broken wrist…
But despite the setbacks, she perseveres. That quality has helped her earn the respect of her fellow contestants.
“Once the guys see that you put out full effort, that you are serious and dedicated to the sport, they accept you,” she said.
Kaila also acknowledges that, as time has gone by, she’s come to accept that she is a role model to plenty of young girls and women who’ve watched her ride.
Way to go Kaila; you’re an inspiration to women everywhere!
(Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).