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Meet the Member: Shaylee Pulham
Story by Matt Naber
Tragedy spurred success for breakaway roper Shaylee Pulham.
Her horse, Silver, carried her through high school and most of college and then died part way through her senior year. But, qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo showed she could win no matter what she rode.
“When my horse died I thought I could never rodeo again since I wasn’t training anything else,” Pulham said. “But, I have a lot of family with horses and I rode five different horses over the season.”
She won both rounds and the average at her final regular season college rodeo.
“From seventh grade to my senior year of college I never rode a different horse, so when he died it was my lowest point,” Pulham said. “But then to continue to compete and qualify for nationals, that was when I knew I could do it. I’d hit the lowest of lows and came back up.”
Silver and Gold
Pulham got the rodeo bug during the summer between sixth and seventh grade when her dad, Shane Thacker, had her ride Silver.
“I fell in love with him (Silver), and then the sport,” Pulham said. “He was amazing, there’s no other words for it. He was a little Lebron James, he could do it all.”
Silver won a lot of gold, and Pulham rapidly rose through the ranks in youth rodeo.
By the time she was a freshman in high school she was ranked second in the nation and qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo four years straight.
She went on to compete on the Utah Valley University rodeo team for four years in Orem, Utah, qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo in 2014 and 2017. She earned her degree in psychology in 2017.
Although tragedy struck her senior year and Silver died at 19 years old, Pulham was determined to compete.
Passing the Torch
Now 26, Pulham lives in Genola, Utah, with her husband, Luke, and her three step-kids, about 50 minutes away from where she grew up, in Bluffdale, Utah. The couple married in May 2020 and the cowgirl now has sons Trace, 10, Kash, 7, and daughter Tenlee, 4.
“My maiden name is Thacker so I come from a long line of rodeo,” Pulham said. “We’re all actively involved with our kids in rodeo, but I’m kind of the last of the adults to keep going.”
Now she competes on a 12-year-old American Quarter Horse called Dolly. She wasn’t entirely green when she was bought, but there was just one problem — her personality.
“The reason I bought her is she’s really fast and can close the gap,” Pulham said. “You can help a stop or pattern, but you can’t train speed. But she’s a very hot horse and gets nervous. I eventually figured out how to keep my nerves calm enough to keep her calm and then it clicked.
“It took me longer than I care to admit, but we have similar personalities. We’re both stubborn and when we don’t get along it’s because our stubborn side comes out.”
Her dad, Shane Thacker, had front row seats to the whole thing.
“When she got this horse (Dolly), it was like back to square one,” Thacker said. “She couldn’t catch a calf on her it was like watching another girl rope.
“But I’ll be danged, something clicked with her this summer and they just took off and she won a lot of money. I think it’s because she quit worrying about it so much. Horses can feel pressure and tension, so if you’re pressured up and worried about it, they gather that vibe. She got to where she wasn’t stressing about it and all of a sudden they started taking it a lot better.”
Now she’s strives to be like him.
“My dad’s had the biggest impact because he’s always been there for me and made sure I made it to every rodeo I needed to,” Pulham said. “He put his life on hold to help me accomplish my goals and now I do that with my kids.”
The Rocky Mountain Pro Rodeo Association affords her the opportunity to work full time as an HR manager for a finance company while balancing rodeo, her new role as mom, and helping her three kids compete.
“We went to six different rodeos in three days because of my rodeos and theirs,” Pulham laughed. “It’s more important to go to my kids’ rodeos and give them the opportunity.
“It was hard at first, I won’t even sugarcoat it, having to learn to take other people’s lives into consideration. But if asked if I would do it again knowing what I know now, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even on the worst days, the better days outweigh those times 10. I got to choose to be their parents and I picked the best kids. I tell them that all the time.”