Hailey Hardeman

Photo by Ryan Dorgan

HAILEY HARDEMAN WOULD rather live in Wilson, Wyoming, than anywhere else in the world. The former Teton County Rodeo Princess loves cozy log cabins and taking her horses on trail rides into the wide open spaces that evoke an earlier era: a time before Pearl Street Bagels was the place to meet up with neighbors. Hailey’s great-grandfather, Gerrit Hardeman, emigrated from the Netherlands and homesteaded in Kelly in 1910. He and wife, LaMar, moved to Wilson in 1956 and founded the Hardeman Hereford Ranch. Hailey, sixteen, wakes up at six a.m. every morning to do her chores, which include caring for nine horses and raising steers to pay for college. She has lettered in three sports—rodeo, basketball, and soccer—at Jackson Hole High School, where she’ll be a junior next school year. Hailey’s grandfather was the local rodeo announcer, her parents were high school sweethearts, and, if she has it her way, she will raise her kids here with the same grit, grace, and high spirits of her predecessors.

Q: How do you become a rodeo princess?
A: You have to be brave to get up in front of people, and you have to memorize a speech and go in a room with judges for a Q&A and to model. I had to fall in love with the sport of rodeo and teach people about it. The perception is that rodeo is a trashy sport, but it is really expensive. People don’t realize the expense, family support, and time it takes.

Q: What was the best part of being a princess?
A: Holding the American flag while everyone is looking at you—to have that feeling of everyone saluting you.

Q: Was this something you wanted to do for a long time?
A: I always looked up to those girls. I think why I liked it is that public speaking is something I’m pretty good at. The speaking and modeling taught me how to be a confident young lady.

Q: Why did you stop?
A: I’m kind of a tomboy, and all that you had to do for it was overwhelming. After a few years I didn’t want to be a princess.

Q: Nine horses—are they all yours?
A: I paid for two [myself] but get to ride all of them. My sister and I share them, depending on the rodeo and on which horses perform better indoors or out.

Q: Many young women dream about having a horse. Does the reality live up to the dream?
A: Most definitely it does. It’s hard when your friends want to go to the movies and you have to feed and clean out pens and ride, but I literally think, “Every girl dreams of this and this is my life.”

Q: How does it feel to ride a horse at a gallop?
A: It’s the coolest feeling ever. It’s a great stress relief. I go riding a lot with my [younger] sister, Gracie. We both work hard so it’s nice to get away. We have little clips on our saddles for a speaker and we just play music.

Q: Favorite tunes to ride to?
A: Before a rodeo my dad always plays Queen for me to get pumped up. If I’m just riding by myself, I play Florida Georgia Line.

Q: Do you ski, too?
A: Yes.

Q: Are you more comfortable on a horse or skis?
A: A horse. Horses and rodeo are a part of my identity; skiing is just a fun thing to do.

Q: You want to raise your own family in Wilson. Do you also want to ranch?
A: Yes, I would love to be able to keep the family land. I see ranches getting sold and it makes me sad.
Interview by Julie Fustanio Kling

| Posted in JH Living
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