Breaking glass ceilings

Kassandra Shoemaker Makes Steer Roping History
Colorado cowgirl Kassandra Shoemaker made history in 2023 by becoming the first female steer roper named Rookie of the Year in the Wyoming Steer Roping Association. Oh, she’s also a competitive breakaway roper, team roper, ranch rodeo member and barrel racer.
Kassandra Shoemaker in the steer roping at the 2023 Don King Days in Big Horn, Wyoming. | Michael Magill

By Paige Brandon

University of Wyoming senior Kassandra Shoemaker made her mark on the steer roping world when she became the first-ever woman to earn the Rookie of the Year title in the Wyoming Steer Roping Association early in September 2023.

Notably, Shoemaker, from Gill, Colorado, concluded her rookie run as the first-ever female to rope steers at The Cowboy State’s iconic gathering, Don King Days, which hosted the association’s finals at the Sept. 3-4, 2023, event, held annually at the Big Horn Equestrian Center, just outside of Sheridan. And that’s not all.

The 22-year-old cowgirl is a true all-around hand. In addition to making steer roping history, she’s also a ProRodeo breakaway roper, a team roping header, a ranch rodeo competitor, colt-starter and, last but not least, a barrel racer. Then, as a college senior, she’s also a prospective veterinary school student or maybe in pursuit of her master’s degree.

As a relative newcomer to the scene, it begs the question: Is this girl even real? And the answer, definitively, is yes, she really is.

Who is Kassandra Shoemaker?

Shoemaker grew up cowboying for her family’s Northern Colorado cow-calf operation and showing horses.

“I was riding before I could walk and then just roping, doing general jobs on the ranch,” Shoemaker said. “It was a way of life and a matter of getting our job done. So, I’ve roped and rode for as long as I can remember.”

Shoemaker is the daughter of veterinarian Wade Shoemaker, DVM, the owner of Greeley, Colorado’s Countryside Large Animal Veterinary Services, which proved pretty awesome for the young hand.

Wade Shoemaker, DVM, gives his expert advice on freeze brands: Freeze Brand 411—A Comprehensive Guide to Freeze Branding Your Horse

“I could not ask for a better childhood,” Shoemaker said. “I remember in third grade, I missed school to go gather cows and help him and his clients pregnancy check and test bulls.”

Eventually, she took her roping to the arena where, to this day, she competes in breakaway roping, team roping, women’s ranch rodeos, and, most recently—and arguably most inspiringly—in the steer roping.

Steer roping is a Shoemaker legacy

“I grew up around steer roping and it seemed natural,” Shoemaker said. “I’ve probably watched more steer roping runs than just about anybody. My dad has roped steers since I can remember, and I’ve grown up being able to travel with him to rodeos and go to the Wyoming steer roping jackpots.” 

She rode more hours than she watched, another steppingstone to her success.

“There’s so much horsemanship involved with roping that, the fact that I spent so much of my life horseback has definitely helped it be pretty seamless. Granted, there’s been a lot of work put into it. But understanding horses—how they work and being able to have that connection—has been integral to me doing what I have in the last year.”

Kassandra Shoemaker competing at the Black Hills Championship Steer Roping in Wall, South Dakota.
Kassandra Shoemaker competing at the Black Hills Championship Steer Roping in Wall, South Dakota. | cfactionphotos/Rachel Derner

Shoemaker just celebrated her first anniversary of steer roping competitively in August. In one year, she made it to two finals—the Wyoming Steer Roping Association Finals and the inaugural National Finals Steer Roping College Division—the first woman to do so in both. Then, she received the Rookie of the Year title for the WSRA. 

“I caught wind they were going to start having some college steer ropings,” she said.

Like any determined cowgirl, she hit the ground running.

“I maybe ran between 15 to 30 steers with my dad before I went back to school.”

That fall, she was entered.

Authentically all-around

Outside of her new venture, Shoemaker is already an established roper with a diverse resume. In her sophomore year of ProRodeo breakaway and competing in the Mountain States Circuit, Shoemaker placed third in Round 2 at the 2023 Sheridan WYO Rodeo for $1,591 and, later in July, was second in the wild card round at Cheyenne Frontier Days to make it back to the perf. 

She made it to the 2022 Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association World Finals and competed at the Art of the Cowgirl All Women’s Ranch Rodeo. She’s also competed as a header, team roping at the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.

Kassandra Shoemaker (front row, third from left) at the 2022 Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association World Finals in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Courtesy WRRA.

The little spare time she has, she spends studying for her animal science major and training barrel horses or other outside colts. It’s a schedule that wears anyone out just talking about, but it’s the schedule of a true hand, or a “jack of all trades” as Shoemaker likes to joke. 

A true woman of rodeo

Shoemaker could hardly choose her favorite event, a common difficulty for someone as well-rounded as she is, but the steer roping community tugs at her heart. 

“Just being around that crowd is a great way to grow up,” she said with a smile in her tone. “They’re great people, great horsemen, great ropers, great athletes, and a lot of them are cattlemen, too, because there’s so much ranching background behind the steer roping.”

Yet, the most fulfilling part that keeps her coming back is seeing the little girls in the stands, where she once sat. She was once that same little girl, with braids in her hair and freckles on her face, traveling with her dad. She sat in the stands, a concession stand corn dog in hand, watching run after run of the steer roping, knowing one day she was going to do that, just like her dad.

If she could do it cowboying in the pasture, she could do it in the arena. Shoemaker hopes the girls in her shoes can see it, too.

“There are always younger girls that are traveling with their dads, just like I was,” she explained. “I get to sit and chat with them, and they ask me, ‘Are you entered today?’ And I get to tell them I am. I love talking to those girls. I hope it sparks a fire.”

As for the million-dollar question every 22-year-old cowgirl gets asked—what does she want to do when she grows up—it depends on what the future holds. For this all-around cowgirl, the world is her oyster.

She applied to vet schools and is possibly looking to pursue her master’s. No matter, her braid will always be there to stand out among the cowboys in the steer roping pen. 

Women in Rodeo Month coverage is brought to you all September long with support from Mane n’ TailR. Watson Boots and Resistol.

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