By Jolee Jordan
Union, Oregon — The old adage is you get by with a little help from your friends but for Idaho cowgirl Italy Sheehan, it’s better phrased, you get ahead with a little help from your family.
Sheehan grew up in rodeo history, the granddaughter of PRCA World Champion Steer Wrestler and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Bob A. Robinson. Her folks, Ange and Vern Eames, competed in the sport, Vern in the saddle bronc riding and Ange as a barrel racer. Sheehan was on a horse by the time she was two years old, eventually college rodeoing for both University of Nevada-Las Vegas and College of Southern Idaho where she won All Around and Barrel Racing regional titles.
Today, Sheehan competes professionally in the WPRA riding a horse called Puma. Registered as Woody Pine Cone, Puma is not Sheehan’s horse.
“My dad owns him,” laughs Sheehan of the horse she calls “quirky as all get out.” “He was raised on the J Bar 7 Ranch in Kentucky and ended up in Oklahoma.”
Vern Eames liked what he saw in the son of Quixote Dash whose dam is the Sun Frost bred mare PC Ellie Wood. His history between his birth on a farm for racehorses and ending up a roping and barrel racing horse in middle America is “grey” according to Sheehan, but Eames was impressed.
“They sent him to my brother to head on and dad saw him run [barrels]. He said, ‘he’s not leaving our place.’”
“Thank God for parents,” Sheehan says with a giggle, “I get the privilege to ride him.”
Sheehan has been running the gelding for about four years and has come close to a berth at the Ram Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo, particularly in the last two seasons. She finished 15th in 2017 with limited hauling.
Sheehan’s time is precious with several full time jobs on her plate. In addition to her rodeoing aspirations, Sheehan works full time at St. Luke’s in Twin Falls as a recovery room nurse.
“It’s very entertaining,” she jokes, noting it’s a welcomed change after several years spent in the ER while working in San Angelo before the birth of her first child. “They [the patients] are quite thankful when they wake up.”
After welcoming son Diesel to the family six years ago, Sheehan and her husband Brett moved back to the Northwest to be close to family. Another boy, Dually, followed three years later.
The Sheehans also farm 80 acres in Shoshone and raise and train horses.
“I like to go to work because it’s easier than all the work at home,” Sheehan jokes that the hospital is a less frantic pace than home.
Brett is a team roper who also competes professionally so the rodeo road is a family affair for the Sheehans. A highlight was when both Italy and Brett competed in the Finals at the Pendleton Round-Up in 2017. Though they live within the confines of the Wilderness Circuit, they made the decision to claim Columbia River after returning to the Northwest from Texas.
“I rodeoed in the Wilderness Circuit for 10 years but when we moved back, we decided to switch,” she says. “We love the diversity in the Columbia River rodeos from St. Paul to Pendleton. They have lots of big open pens.”
With the Columbia River Circuit just kicking off competition as summer hits the calendar, the Sheehans were busy on the second weekend of June with rodeos in Sisters and Union (Oregon) as well as Eagle, Idaho.
They began in Sisters where Puma and Italy caught the first barrel for a good payday. The next stop was the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show and Rodeo (EOLS) in Union, known as the oldest show in the Northwest thanks to its founding in 1908, two years prior to the first Pendleton Round-Up.
The EOLS faced a challenge for its 2018 show after fires destroyed numerous buildings on the grounds in July 2017. Three racehorse barns were amongst the damaged property. The community quickly rallied to rebuild but the rebuilding efforts ran right up until the start of the 2018 show.
“That committee did an amazing job rebuilding…they finished just as the kids started bringing in their animals for the stock show the weekend prior to the rodeo,” says Steve Kenyon, who has announced the rodeo for many years. The show barn as well as horse barns were rebuilt thanks to volunteers and local businesses.
Sheehan was confident as she arrived in Union confident as she’d earned checks in the EOLS arena in the past. However, as she waited for the ground to be worked for the barrel racing, rain began to pour down.
“We literally couldn’t see it was raining so hard as we sat there,” she notes. The rain cleared away as racing began but one of the pro rodeo judges noticed a problem. “He actually told me, ‘Sheehan, wipe that look off your face!’”
Confused, Sheehan questioned his comment.
“He told me, ‘I watched Tyson Durfey’s wife come in here right after the rain last year and win the rodeo.’ So I thought, ‘oh that look!’”
Sheehan and Puma took their shot around the course and were able to post a very good time of 17.62, just four one-hundredths ahead of former Columbia River Champ Cindy Woods. As the rain continued to fall during the rest of the weekend, Sheehan’s time held up for the win and earned her $1,405.
“It was darn sure mud but Puma didn’t mind it at all,” Sheehan notes. It was a good omen as the next stop in Eagle was under similar conditions.
The Eagle rodeo returned to pro status after several years as an open event; designed as a fundraiser for the local community, the rodeo has donated money each year to local organizations and charities. Sheehan had actually won the event four years prior aboard Puma but the 2018 event was staged in a new facility.
“It was a little smaller but I thought it was really good,” says Sheehan of the new digs. She said the ground was sandy, which helped as it was raining there as well.
Sheehan put up a time of 17.93 seconds, earning a second pro rodeo victory on the weekend, this one by the margin of five one-hundredths of a second. The co-approved rodeo put another $1,297 in her circuit earnings.
“It was rainy and cold the whole weekend,” Sheehan notes but gave big props to her horse. “He is very powerful. Mud doesn’t matter to him; he just powers through it.”
Already ranked fourth in the circuit, Sheehan is well on her way to meeting her goal of a first trip to the Ram Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo in Yakima, Wash., this fall. She also decided to venture out of her loop a bit with an entry to the Reno Rodeo beginning this week.
“He was working so good I decided to take a shot,” she says.
Any road trips require a big commitment from family for help with chores and the kids.
“You’ve got to have family to rodeo,” laughs Sheehan. Sheehan balances a full time career, motherhood, a farm and horse business along with rodeoing with great acumen. Her story is actually featured in Allure Magazine in an article titled “Why Women Are Making ‘Pre-Baby Bucket Lists’ Filled With Goals to Accomplish Before Motherhood.”
“My friend is a freelance writer and she asked if she could feature me in the story which is about moms and going back to work after having kids,” says Sheehan. “It’s a pretty cool deal.”
Sheehan actually calls riding Puma a full time job too.
“He doesn’t give you any leeway at all [during the run],” she laughs. “He’s a push style but sometimes you have to pull at the first. It’s a full time job when you’re on his back.”
That being said, she notes the gelding seems to be mellowing some with age and she remains grateful for the chance to jockey him at the rodeos.
“He’s cool and getting cooler all the time,” she says. “I just have to thank my dad for letting me ride his horse!”
For more information on the Eagle Pro Rodeo, visit them on-line at eaglerodeo.com. For more information on the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show and Rodeo, visit them on-line at www.easternoregonlivestockshow.com.
Courtesy of WPRA