Harmony In Motion

Danyelle Williams, atop her horse Sonny, competes in barrel racing recently. Williams, 20, has already clinched a number of top honors in the rodeo arena. (submitted photo) Danyelle Williams, atop her horse Sonny, competes in barrel racing recently. Williams, 20, has already clinched a number of top honors in the rodeo arena. (submitted photo)

By Pat Caldwell
Malheur Enterprise

VALE – No one ever hears them, but Danyelle Williams and her best teammate communicate like long-time comrades.

Which, in a way, they are.

They do not use words. Instead, Williams and her horse, Sonny, communicate through body language as they gallop out into the bright lights of a rodeo arena in Oregon or Wyoming or Washington.

They don’t fit the conventional image of world-class athletes, but they are. They perform and achieve victory utilizing the same kind of athletic harmony evident between a great quarterback and a receiver.

Williams and Sonny know a lot about accolades and victory. But they also know a great deal about hard work and sacrifice.

Williams, a Vale native and student at Blue Mountain Community College, is 20 and already a rising star in rodeo. Her successes are extraordinary and resonate across a dozen rodeo arenas in different states.

When she was in eighth grade, Williams finished ninth in the nation in barrel racing.

In high school she traveled to nationals twice in the breakaway roping category.

For two years straight – 2015 and 2016 – she claimed second place at the College National Finals in barrel racing.

This year at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, she won fastest time in a round in the breakaway roping category as well as running the fastest time in the barrels for the week for a 13.7-second finish.

That mark paved the way to a second-place finish in the barrels and enough points to win the title of National All-Around Cowgirl at the 2016 College National Finals in Casper, Wyoming.

As well as winning her own title, her team from BMCC won the National Women’s Championship title and brought it back to Pendleton for the second year in a row.

This year she clinched second place at the Vale Fourth of July Rodeo in barrel racing.

While she’s a standout in barrel racing, she also competes in breakaway roping, goat tying and team roping.

While Williams’ nationally-recognized achievements stand on their own, she also exudes an appreciation for the actual art of rodeo and its legacy within American history.

“I love it. I feel so lucky to be in America and to have the opportunity to do this,” Williams said.

She also said she enjoys other aspects of rodeo.

“I like the adrenaline rush,” she conceded.

The rodeo triumphs, though, are not hers alone. Without her teammate, none of her impressive accolades would even be possible.

Williams knows that.

Inside the dust and sweat and heat of a rodeo arena Williams understands at a primal level the silent synchronicity that exists between horse and rider, a feature to the barrel racing competition that is hidden from spectators.

For a few brief minutes each night during the barrel racing competition, Williams and Sonny are inseparable.

“We are two flawed individuals that when paired together can make things happen,” Williams said. “It is an unspoken connection.”

So, in the end, success isn’t just about Williams. It is also about Sonny, a 15-year-old grade sorrel gelding.

“He has been a blessing. I feel lucky to have him,” she said.

They communicate with each other through shifts in a leg or a knee or a hard nudge.

“You train them to respond to you. From the outside looking in, it is kind of crazy how I communicate with this animal. But none of my dreams would be achievable without him,” Williams said.

Sonny is also a tough competitor, Williams said.

“He loves the crowd. And he is wicked fast. He has always been fast but it seems like in the past few years we’ve really clicked,” she said.

Success isn’t possible, Williams said, without a lot of hard work. Williams and Sonny begin to practice in January and they rodeo into November.

Once the rodeo season kicks off, the schedule is grueling. During the past two weeks, for example, Williams traveled to rodeo events in St. Helens and Sublimity Oregon and then turned around and journeyed to the Chief Joseph Day’s Pro Rodeo in Wallowa County, where she placed in the barrel racing. After Chief Joseph Days, Williams will hit the road again to attend rodeos in Washington and Madras, Oregon.

“Over the Fourth of July I went to six rodeos,” she said.

Despite the busy schedule, Williams said she loves her sport.

“I enjoy every part of rodeo,” she said.

Each rodeo, she said, presents its own unique challenges.

“Not every arena is the same. Your kind of have to prepare yourself for different set ups,” Williams said.

Williams also said every competition – whether she is successful or not – is a building block for the future.

“I either do good or I learn. Rodeo includes a lot of mental toughness and preparation. I have to believe in myself and have confidence. That is the key to the sport,” she said.

And, like a great quarterback, one other quality is essential, Williams said.

“You have to have a short memory in rodeo and you can’t dwell on the past,” Williams said.

Williams said the support of her mother and father in her rodeo vocation is also another reason she has claimed success. Her parents, she said, taught her that rodeo is about more than competing and winning awards.

“It is important,” she said. “To be a positive role model.”