Learning to give with barrel racing

26 June 2020

Nicole Vanderlee, BSc DH '20

My love for animals and horses began early. I started competing at amateur rodeos and jackpots as a young girl and began barrel racing professionally in 2017. I truly enjoy the partnership with my horses and the special bond that we share.

This connection with my horses and the thrill of competition has sparked a lifelong love for the sport of barrel racing. I still get goosebumps every time one of my horses runs down the alley at a race.

Exciting successes

In my first couple of years of university, my horse Frosty and I enjoyed some exciting moments of success together in the arena. Frosty was named "Horse of the Year." This award is voted on by your peers and goes to the horse, who is overall the best athlete and whom they determine to have the most "heart." Horses with "heart" give it all they have, resulting in performances way above what was ever expected.

That same year, I won the championship title for the association, another huge moment for my career. In the years since then, I have won at professional rodeos, college rodeos and futurities. Futurities are events for a juvenile horse where they compete against their peers. I have found that I especially enjoy these events which showcase talented young horses and their trainers' hard work and dedication.

Racing throughout school

I continued barrel racing throughout my time at Augustana University, where I studied General Sciences. This commitment continued as I moved on to Dental Hygiene at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It was often a struggle to study on the road, and I sometimes felt overwhelmed and exhausted.

Still, the sense of having a purpose in many areas of life always made it worth it. I was very fortunate to have lots of good people helping me. Family, friends, professors, and everyone in between made it possible for me to continue to do what I loved while pursuing my studies.

Lessons learned

I have travelled so far and met many phenomenal people and along the way. I have learned the art of determination. I have had some extremely humbling moments, but also glorious triumphs.

From my treasured horses, I have learned selflessness and about caring for something other than myself. People who live and work with animals are usually the first to tell you that their animals come first. My animals get breakfast first, and their comfort and well being always comes before my own. They have strict nutrition plans, exercise regimens and sometimes even spa treatments! 

The lessons I have learned from horses and acquired from the rodeo lifestyle will help me as I move forward in my career in dental hygiene. Horse training and barrel racing have taught me that I am never the smartest person in the room, and I can learn a little something from everyone. I have learned that being kind is usually easy and always possible.


I look forward to after graduation, where I will apply these concepts and continue to grow and learn as I enter my career in the clinical world.