Meet Zoey Kunkel a 21 year old barrel racer that says horses are her ultimate passion in life. she grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota. with her family that is very athletic, and has background in about every sport, except equitation.
Zoey’s love for horses started young, she used to have a stuffed animal she brought everywhere named “Beauty” from the movie Black Beauty (which was one of the many horse movies she used to watch when she was little.) When Zoey was younger she always dreamed of having her own horse. She used to save up all of her pennies to buy her dream horse. Zoey’s biggest influence for her passion of horses is her Aunt Judy. Judy was from the Kunkel side of the family and lived on a little farm in Dayton, Iowa. Zoey remembers going and spending a week with Judy, and during that week Zoey felt like she was in heaven. The pair shared their love for animals, especially horses. When Zoey was eight years old she lost her hero to leukemia. To this day Zoey still think about her when she rides, Judy’s passion for horses and riding stayed alive through Zoey.
Currently Zoey attending Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, and she is majoring in communications. If you were to ask her what her dream job would be right now she would tell you that she wants to be some type of sports reporter, though if you ask her in a week that might have changed. Otero blessed Zoey with a rodeo scholarship. So at the moment, she am unemployed but not because she wants to be, Zoey is just very busy with school work, rodeo and rodeo practice. She attends classes every day followed by rodeo practice then by homework. If you can’t find Zoey riding or studying your best bet would be to look in the gym, in her free time Zoey enjoys working out. At the moment, outside of school and rodeo she basically has no life; but she’s okay with that because in Zoey’s eyes she is living the dream.
Zoey’s riding career started back at the Diamond T ranch (when it existed in Eagan, MN.) When she was three, Zoey started to have every one of her birthday parties there and would ride. Her passion continued to grow and her parents, knowing nothing about horses, didn’t know what to do. They finally signed her up for riding lessons at St. Croix Equestrian Training Center in Hudson. Zoey started by learning and showing in basic English riding, but once she got a taste of barrel racing there was no keeping her away.
(Photo Credit: High Point Photography)
Growing up in Woodbury with a family that knew little to nothing about horses made Zoey’s dream of owning her very own horse near impossible. She was told that she would never own her own horse making Zoey’s dream a pure part of her imagination. Because owning her own horse was out of the question, Zoey’s parents went to the leasing option. She started with a horse named Shimmy, he was a sorrel with a beautiful white face and probably 500 pounds overweight, but he was as close as she could get to her own. Shimmy was broke, but not trained in anything specific, his owner mostly rode trails and dressage on him.
To everyone he was just a fat horse that she could ride around on. Besides what everyone thought, Zoey still dreamed of rodeo. Her mom wanted her to proceed in my English riding on this horse, which she did, but Zoey started working my fat sorrel partner around the barrels. Shimmy ended up being quite the WSCA (Western Saddle Club Association) game horse, winning many ribbons, and high point awards. They also qualified to the WSCA Championship show many times, where they also succeeded. Shimmy and Zoey also went to 4H state every year she was on him and they took home state champion trophies. This was only the beginning for the team.
She had many successful shows, rodeos and barrel races on Shimmy, but Zoey still dreamed of owning her own horse. Well, her parents had quite the surprise for her, they bought her best friend for her birthday. This was quite the surprise because not only did she feel she would own Shimmy, but to have a horse of her own was a gift from god.
In 2013, Zoey faced the biggest struggle of her life when she had a summer filled with rodeo and barrel racing plans for, but god had another plan for her. Shimmy started moving his back end funny, he would gait like a gaited horse at the trot and the lope, eventually he started falling over. They would lunge him over poles and he would step on them on the back end as if he had no control. A few vets look at him, and the most promising treatment they could get him was EPM treatment.
(Photo Credit: Fred Greenwood Photography)
As Zoey treated him she held her breath and prayed that this would work for him, but it didn’t, he continued to fall over and have no control over his rear end. Shimmy’s rodeo days were over, and as far as Zoey knew, so was her riding career. Her parents were reluctant to buy her a horse, then came the vet bills, and to see the horse become a pasture pet was the last thing they wanted to see their investment go. Zoey was heartbroken on top of it, to watch her best friend go from the top to the bottom hurt.
Along with all of that going on at the beginning of the year, she also had turned in all of her forms to run for WSCA Queen, with lots praying and hoping that he would be okay so she could ride him in the contest, she was still shot down. Now, being out the only horse she owned Zoey knew that she had no shot in the contest. She still went along with the crowning progress, starting with the banquet. She loves meeting new people and thought to herself, if she can’t get queen, she can aim for the Ms. Congeniality title, since she loves meeting and socializing with new and honestly any kind of people. Her friend Kati was one of (and still is today) the biggest help she could find. Kati let Zoey borrow her horse for the riding portion of the contest, Zoey had about 20 rides to learn how to ride Kati’s mare “Vada”. Using a horse that isn’t yours is looked down upon in the queen’s contest, so when they lined up in the coliseum she honestly didn’t think she had a chance at being on the court.
The first title to be given out was the Congeniality title, when Zoey’s name was announced she smiled and wanted to hug every girl that she ran with. She was honored to receive such a title that was voted upon girls she was competing with. When they went to announce WSCA Queen, Zoey had her eyes locked on the girl she though had that title in the bag, they had all become friends and Zoey was excited for her. Then the announcer said Zoey’s name and she lost breath, she couldn’t believe it, but everyone’s eyes were on her. Zoey thought she was dreaming, but she wasn’t. Zoey describes That moment as being THE most amazing moment of her life, She accomplished everything I dreamed of. She was blessed to be able to represent WSCA as their Queen and Ms. Congeniality.
(Photo Credit: Michelle Schimek photography)
Over her Queen’s year she bought, trained and sold a few horses of her own, but she also had the privilege to run her good friend Rachel’s horse, Gambler.
Zoey’s horse life has been filled with amazing experiences, each making her a stronger rider and person. she strongly believes that whatever had happened to Shimmy was Gods way of giving her opportunities to make herself a stronger rider, and that it has definitely done so. She saw support from all over when that crisis happened, a bunch of people offered her their horses to ride, on top of being able to ride a bunch of friend’s horses, she bought a few green ones to work with. That part has been a blessing.
Some people may not know this, but her crazy horse addiction has also scored Zoey some TV time. Back when she was in 8th grade she got to star in an episode of Sci-girls. This is a PBS show that had different episodes that dealt with science in some sort. She was lucky enough to be chosen to star in the episode called, “horsing around”. The TV series ended up winning and Emmy Award, so she has also won an Emmy. In 2014 she was chosen to do a commercial for Spire bank, they came out to her barn and interviewed her and filmed right out there. That was an experience of a life time for her, she was shocked the first time she saw herself on TV. These two experiences would have never happened if she didn’t have my horse background, so she is thankful for that.
In 2014 Zoey was given the opportunity that she would never imagined. She was offered a rodeo scholarship to Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado. At first, she was really unsure about the move, Colorado is across the country it seemed like and she can’t just come home if she wants. Zoey also had never imagined herself moving to Colorado, she wasn’t even 100% sure where Colorado was on the map. But running college rodeo has been a goal of hers, and to be able to have a scholarship was so surreal for her. She remembers the day she landed in Colorado when she was going to check out the school, it was a dark and gloomy day but man, that state can try and be gloomy all it wants but it’s still absolutely beautiful. Zoey fell in love with Colorado the more she saw of it.
(Photo Credit: High Point Photography)
She knew she had to move there. People ask her all the time, “Why did you move?” The answer is simple, she wanted to rodeo, and she wanted to take her rodeo career as far as she could, and moving to Colorado was the best choice for that. Zoey also gets asked if it was hard to move across the country, and shey says,”honestly yes”, but the hardest part for her is finding herself again. When you move nobody knows you, but that can be a good and bad thing sometimes. Making the decision to move was effortless, her passion is rodeo and she was willing to do about anything to succeed in it.
The move to Colorado has been the best decision of her life. She has met so many awesome people that she never would have had the chance to meet if she wouldn’t have moved. Zoey has also learned so much from so many different people, she has been able to run all over the state of Colorado and in Wyoming. Her riding skills have not only doubled, but tripled and she is always looking for someone else to meet or something new to learn. That’s what she loves about this sport, you never stop learning. Every time she swings a leg over her horse she is learning.
Getting ready for her move was a lot of work, her first step was to find a horse that would be successful with the competition down in her region. So she started to work long hard hours to raise up the money to buy a nice rodeo horse. When she eventually had the money, she started looking for a horse. It didn’t take her long to find the mare she have now. Zoey bought Doseys Invested Debt from Legacy Farms in Michigan, the second she swung a leg over this mare, Zoey knew she was going to be something special. “Glimmer” is a 7 year old sorrel quarter horse, she has four white socks and a pretty blaze on her face. If Zoey could describe my dream horse, Glimmer would be the definition. Glimmer is a solid 1D-2D horse and they have been working hard at practices to succeed at the college rodeos.
(Photo Credit: High Point Photography)
Zoey’s favorite part about rodeo is the support. Name another sport where your team includes a 1000 pound beast. In her case she throws some metal in that beast mouth, straps some leather on its back and makes it run full speed around barrels. When you team up with that beast you also cheer on your opponents. In the sport of rodeo Zoey has not only seen, but experienced the support from everyone. You can meet someone at one rodeo, and they will be cheering you on later during the performance. To Zoey, that is absolutely amazing, and the exact reason she love this sport so much. Not only because she love chasing cans, but she loves the rodeo people. We are all a family whether we know each other or not.
Zoey’s advice to anyone is to follow your dreams, if you don’t chase your dreams you will never catch them. She took a big risk moving across the country, but if she wouldn’t have taken that chance she never would have had the opportunities shes had in the beautiful state of Colorado. If you would have told Zoey when she was little that she would have moved to Colorado on a rodeo scholarship she would have given you a crazy look, not because she wouldn’t have wanted it, but because she could never have imagined herself getting that privilege. Today Zoey is living a life she never would have dreamed of, this is more than her dreams could have ever reached and she knows she’s blessed every day to see what it has to offer her. “So, work until your idols become your rivals, reach for the stars and when you get knocked down, get up and try again; you never know what you can accomplish. You might be amazed.”
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