On Leave, On the Heels: Kyle Vinyard

“I’m a horse show guy, mostly,” said Kyle Vinyard, a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army, who just became the AQHA Level 2 Amateur Heeling World Champion. “I’ve got a pretty nice heel horse and I like to show him.”

Showing is a hobby that Vinyard, of Fountain, Colorado, has maintained since his childhood. 

“I will compete in any class,” he said. “If I think I can compete in it, I’ll show in it. My mom, she showed horses and, my entire life, that’s what we did. I’ve had to show pleasure horses; I’ve had to show English horses; and now that I pay and fund everything on my own, I like showing rope horses. That’s my favorite.”

At time of press, Vinyard, 44, had also just competed in his first PAFRA World Championship Rodeo, held Oct. 20–22 in Topeka, Kansas—one of the roping events he was trying to get tuned up for since returning home from his recent deployment.

“It was fun,” he said of the event. “I didn’t have much luck, but that’s rodeo. The people are so fun to compete with.”

His “luck” lined out a little different at the 2022 AQHA World Championship Show. With Trey Yates heading and his horse primed, Vinyard earned 209.5 points across 14 events, besting the competition by 5.5 points.

“Jack Wright, in Florence, Colorado, he’s a big paint horse show guy,” Vinyard said, as he began explaining the challenge of keeping a horse legged up while deployed. “I met him at a little local show in Pueblo and we just became fast friends. So, he’s [been] riding my horse a couple times a week and kept it at his house, and he’s got it pretty tuned up right now.”

Back at the start of the year, Vinyard and his 2011 horse, Gee Whiz Heeza Champ (Gee Whiz It Shines – Champs Blue Susie by Hansome Roanie Boy), earned their AQHA World Show qualification at Denver’s National Western Stock Show so, when Vinyard returned home, Wright switched to tuning him up as well.

“Jack’s a good dude,” Vinyard said ahead of the event. “I only have a month to prepare, but he’s teaching me more advanced horsemanship skills. It’s pretty cool. There’s stuff I’d been doing and I didn’t even know I needed to know. So, I’m just spending the month getting focused for that.”

Getting aligned to compete and show was a bit of a changeup from the six months Vinyard spent overseas, providing training and support to the military in Romania, which shares borders with Ukraine.

“We worked out of Romania, on the eastern side. So, when we first went there, that’s when Russia first invaded the Ukraine and we were like, ‘Holy crap, we’re literally going to be right there.’”

Also unique to this deployment—Vinyard has also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Korea—was that he and his fellow troops stayed in the same hotel as many of the Ukrainian refugees.

“All of the men, and all of the younger women stayed back to fight,” Vinyard explained. “But the ones with a lot of kids and the older women, they had to leave the country. But then, once we were there about two months and stuff started to settle back and the Ukrainians started kicking their ass, they all moved back.”

As an engineer in an advisor role, Vinyard contributed to the broader mission of improving military readiness.

“We work with them on mobility, which is getting combat power to the fight,” he said.

“Counter mobility, which is keeping the enemy from overrunning the area. Then, survivability, which is basically like camouflage, fortifications, all engineer stuff. So, we worked with the engineer brigade in the Romanian Army to see how they conduct their training, [how] their staff functions and, basically, to see what we could help them out with and partner with them on.”

On one hand, Vinyard’s explanations of the job done sound slightly typical, but it’s work that earned him recognition from the Romanians. 

Kyle Vinyard
CWO3 Kyle Vinyard before an Airborne Jump last December. The 101st Airborne Airborne Division Specializes in Air Assault operations. Courtesy Kyle Vinyard

“It was pretty prestigious,” Vinyard admitted. “They gave it to three of us in the battalions and it’s awarded from the Romanian Land Force Command. I thought that was kind of neat. Our colonel got one and our sergeant major, and then I got one. I did a lot of coordination between them and the U.S. Forces that were building, so I was there at all the meetings—me and the Romanian Sgt. Major. If the U.S. had an issue, they’d call me and I go talk to the Sgt. Major and, if the Romanians had an issue, they’d call the Sgt. Major and he’d come talk to me.”

Vinyard is a self-proclaimed extrovert. Many of the connections he’s made in his travels—stateside and international—are a direct result of striking up a conversation with someone willing to entertain it. And, when he found a man offering horseback rides in Romania, it only took that one meeting for Vinyard to get signed on to ride down the man’s string. 

“He was the only guy that even had horses in the area,” Vinyard said. “He mostly did trail rides and it was all English riding. The first day, he didn’t charge me because he knew I knew how to ride and, then, all of the sudden, he would call me up and be like, ‘Hey, can you come ride this horse for me?’ So, two or three times a month I was over at his house, and he would take all these people out on rides and he would stick however many horses he wanted me to ride back in the arena.”

If nothing else, Vinyard got to work on his seat.

“I got bucked off a couple times,” he admitted in sheepish good humor. “Not too proud of that. But in an English saddle, they start bucking, you’re just looking for a way off.”

Vinyard helps out a few organizations stateside, as well.

“I’m the Vice President [of team roping] for Warriors and Rodeo,” he said. “I have been for four years, I think. I help out with a lot of the coordination, and I gave a speech at the BFI one year.

“I also help out with the Air Force Academy Rodeo Team, too,” Vinyard continued, explaining how young the team is after losing most of its athletes to graduation. “They’re not competing in college rodeo this fall. We have a kid that can head pretty good, but he doesn’t have a heeler. So we’re hoping we’ll be able to compete next year but, until then, we’re still holding practices and going to local jackpots and ropings and barrel racings and getting better.”

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