An Interview with Sara Honegger
This has been a long time coming. I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my mind for a long time about how to advocate for the rodeo world. When it comes to feature stories, I am a nerd for personality profiles. I just love getting the inside-look on rodeo athletes. Whether it’s a National Finals Rodeo World Champion, or it’s a 4-H contestant at a county show, I like to see what others don’t. I want to know what their life is like inside and out of the arena. What challenges they’ve faced and what dreams they hold close to their heart. My goal in life is to help people understand the importance of the rodeo industry. I want to show those unfamiliar with the rodeo industry a little bit about what it takes to be a rodeo athlete. From personal experience I can tell you that it’s a lot of work. We tend to have a very strong passion for the sport, which motivates us to put up with all the hard work; miles traveled, money spent and rank horses. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that our livestock is happy and that we are living our dreams. I couldn’t have chosen a better interviewee, to share what it means to be an exceptional person and outstanding athlete. A red headed beaut, Sara Honegger is one of the most sweet and caring, inspirational, and compassionate people I have met. She is not only an outstanding college student, but she is also a dedicated collegiate rodeo athlete and I just happen to be lucky enough to call her my friend.
Born a California gypsy, Sara Honegger, grew up with a competitive spirit and a love of horses. These two things led the free-spirited red head to land in the Red Dirt town of Stillwater, Okla., where she attends Oklahoma State University. Coming from a small town in California, Sara said the choice to attend OSU was one of the easiest choices of her life. Awestruck with the small-town feel, 70 degree weather and friendly smiles she received on her college visit, Sara said there really wasn’t any other choice. While attending OSU, Sara is an Agricultural Communications major and an active member of the OSU Rodeo Team. As a collegiate athlete Sara competes in Breakaway, Barrels and Team Roping. One of her great pleasures in life is helping others, on and off the rodeo team. In her mission to help others and increase the exposure for the OSU Rodeo Team, Sara is serving as the 2014-2015 OSU Rodeo Team President. Built for the position Sara is excited about the opportunities she’s been given this year. With big plans for the team, she is grateful for the opportunity to represent the OSU Rodeo Team.
Growing up in the small town of Arroyo Grande, Calif., Sara wasn’t born into a rodeo family. Her parents, Judy and Doug Honegger, both from Illinois, with no prior horse experience weren’t exactly prepared for their firecracker-of-a-daughter’s rodeo plans. However, it didn’t take much to convince them to plunge whole-heartedly into their daughter’s dreams. Starting at age 4 Sara knew that all she wanted to do was ride. With a start in western pleasure the easy-pace couldn’t satisfy the hunger she held for rodeo, even at a young age. Mentor, Cindy Roberts, helped Sara build a solid foundation in barrel racing. Participating in local playdays and jackpots, the little girl from California, found her passion for fast times and slick horses. However, it wasn’t until high school that Sara began her rodeo career. Competing at high school rodeos in barrels and poles, Sara qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo her freshman year in pole bending. Although primarily a barrel racer, it wasn’t a shock to friends and family that the adventurous spitfire wanted to try her hand at roping. Picking up the handy work, Sara began breakaway roping and team roping as a high school senior.
“It was a mess,” Sara joked about her start with team roping. “My partner and I were both just starting, so it was worthless to watch, but we had so much fun. Every single rodeo our entire district would watch us and it was one of the first times I had felt that much support from my district.”
Drawn to the rodeo reputable area of Oklahoma and Texas, Sara began her college search. Starting in the Lonestar State and moving north toward Oklahoma, she toured multiple colleges and universities. She toured institutions with exceptional agricultural programs and with equally as creditable academic accolades. But, Sara still hadn’t found the place she would call home for the next four years. Still searching for the perfect school, she visited several institutions with well-known rodeo programs, hoping to find the right fit. Admitting that all the facilities she visited were great programs, she didn’t feel she had the opportunity to grow as a person and athlete. Not to be discouraged, Sara continued to search for the best college choice, which brought her to Oklahoma State University. The instant she stepped onto the OSU campus, all doubts vanished and she knew she wanted to be a Cowgirl.
“I walked on campus and I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else,” Sara said. “I liked that the rodeo team was just starting to develop, because I felt like I had the opportunity to grow and that I could be a part of history. It wasn’t like that at any other college I visited.”
The camaraderie Sara has experience since beginning her journey as an OK State Cowgirl has impacted her life dramatically. With a multitude of people to meet from all walks of life, Sara has worked to be as involved as possible during her college career. Making an effort to improve the rodeo team, while attending classes, caring for horses and making nearly every team practice, Sara has made a name for herself among the rodeo team. Admired by many, Sara’s willingness to help and positive attitude have created a bond between fellow rodeo athletes within the Central Plains Region that will last years. Meeting people is one of Sara’s greatest joys in life and she says it has been a blessing to attend OSU and compete in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
“I’ve been able to meet so many different people from so many different places,” Sara said. “I really like that about coming to OSU.”
The members of the OSU Rodeo Team have been a support system that Sara credits to her success as a student athlete. With the encouragement from people, like OSU Rodeo Team alumna, Lyndsay Wood, Sara says she has improved her breakaway skills.
“I would have quite at least five times,” Sara said. “But, they were always there to make me see that it will get better and that I can expect more. That has been amazing.”
Describing her favorite things about being a college rodeo athlete, Sara said the small things are what matter. Things like watching slack performances, going to lunch, inside jokes, cheering on friends, and critiquing runs on the IPad are all things that Sara says makes her experience memorable.
“Little stuff like that is what makes me feel like that’s why I came here,” Sara said. “Like, that’s why I’m on the team.”
Her love for the team and the sport are characteristics which no doubt won her the peer-voted position of OSU Rodeo Team President. As the 2014-2015 president Sara has a big year ahead of her. As the first time in 30 years OSU will host a NIRA college rodeo in Stillwater. Along with a jam-packed academic year Sara has been working diligently to make the OSU Cowboy Stampede a success. Bringing nearly 400 contestants to the small college town, Sara isn’t the only one excited about the rodeo. Community members and business owners, alike, have been offering help and sponsorships in support of the rodeo. Although Halloween and Thanksgiving are fast up on us, in college-rodeo-time the year is still early. The OSU rodeo will be the third stop for the contestants of the Central Plains Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Northwestern Oklahoma State University will follow OSU as the last Central Plains Region rodeo of the fall season. But, like I said, the year is still early. Six rodeos await the athletes in the spring, and with an almost non-stop schedule, the contestants still have a lot of rodeo left.
Sara expressed her appreciation for the work the team members have contributed to the building of the event. As president Sara has worked hard to know every member, encouraging them to ask questions and reach out for assistance at any time.
“I want to break all the awkward barriers,” Sara said. “I’m really excited [about her leadership role] and I feel like I can make a difference.”
Inheriting her personality from both parents equally, according to Sara, they are the reason she has become such an outgoing leader. Her compassionate attitude and willingness to help others succeed, she credits to her social-worker mother. On the other side of the spectrum, she gives all the credit to her engineer-dad for her work ethic and strong willpower. The love she holds for her parents is apparent as she described her life before college. A strong friendship with her mother, Sara said she was the ultimate hauling-partner. Traveling to every rodeo when Sara was young, Judy has always been right behind her daughter with encouraging words and loving embraces. Doug, the financial supporter of Team Honegger, gave his support like many dads, with home-cooked steaks after rodeos and the financial support to make Sara’s dreams a reality.
Outside of the rodeo arena, Sara has large dreams for her life, which include helping others. She dreams of opening a therapeutic riding center dedicated to helping people with cognitive disabilities. After working over the summer for a similar type camp, Sara’s experience working with children who had a multitude of life challenges fueled a passion in her heart and soul. Having a strong connection with her own horses, Sara understands the impact they can have. Working with various types of people Sara explained that no matter the life challenges, whether it be Tourette syndrome, Post-traumatic stress disorder, drug rehabilitation, or an abusive home life, she was able to see the differences horses can make.
“Working for the camp really opened my eyes,” Sara said. “Even in a week horses were able to heal them so much more than any doctors or anyone else could.”
Unsure what the future holds, the 20-year-old is confident that a college education and determination will allow her to one day fulfill her dream of opening such a facility. She expects to finish her undergraduate career in May 2015, after which she plans to continue her education with a master’s degree in International Agriculture.
Sara has two horses, which she currently hauls to college rodeos. Pedro is a big-strided, gentle black gelding that serves as Sara’s breakaway and heel horse. Hannah is her little mare that has as much heart as any horse I’ve seen. Hannah is currently Sara’s college rodeo barrel horse. Her adorable dog named, Cali, is one of the sweetest and most energetic pups I’ve seen. These three animals are Sara’s pride and joy! They are basically her children and she is diligent about caring for their needs. It is obvious to anyone who has met Sara how much she loves her horses and Cali.
* The Oklahoma State University Cowboy Stampede rodeo is scheduled for Oct. 9-11, 2014 at the Payne County Fairgrounds in Stillwater, Okla., with performances starting at 7 pm each night. For more details go to http://www.osurodeo.com or visit their Facebook Page – OK State Rodeo Team.
I hope everyone enjoyed this little article and I can honestly say my life has been enriched from meeting this lovely lady.