Kaylynn Pellam Bucks Expectations

By April 21, 2011

Pellman riding at a 2010 PBR event.

Waving one hand in the air, blood pumping with adrenaline, 21-year-old California cowgirl Kaylynn Pellam whirls astride a spinning bull. She doesn’t make the eight seconds required to qualify her for the next round, and flies to the ground. But she dusts herself off and prepares to ride another day.

“God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt,” is Pellam’s way of rationalizing the circumstances, which, as one might guess, are not uncommon in the life of a professional bull rider. But this was not just another day for Pellam, who became the first woman to compete in the newly formed Touring Pro Division of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), in January, at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “It was a lot of fun,” she said afterward. “It was a good bull. It jumped high.”

Pellam is only the second woman to ride in a PBR-sanctioned event, following Wyoming-born Sarah Bradley, who competed in three Challenger Tour events in 2006. Earning her place in the PBR sets Pellam apart from other female bull riders, of whom there are very few.

Women have been riding bulls since the “Golden Age” of women in rodeo in the 1930s.  Today, female bullriders’ chances to compete are in “open bull riding” events (open to men and women) or PBR- and Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA)–sanctioned competitions for which they must be members or riding with the association’s permit, which can take some time to earn.

Primarily a male-dominated rodeo sport, bull riding had been included among the events in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) roping division. But the association has seen a decline in rough-stock riders and has not featured the event in their finals since 2008. That year, six-time world champion DeDee Crawford won the world title at the Professional Women’s Rodeo Association finals (now the WPRA roping division) for a total of $4,884 in yearly earnings. By contrast, her male counterpart, J.W. Harris, won $53,365 for the bull rider champion title at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals Rodeo.

Kaylynn Pellam is not your typical PBR association bull rider. (Photo by Courtney)

But if anyone’s background can prepare them for riding out this particular type of storm, it’s Pellam’s. Hailing from a rodeo family in Murrieta, young Kaylynn began riding steers at age seven. “My dad rode saddle broncs and roped, and my mom was a barrel racer,” she noted. With rodeo in her genes, it was a natural transition to ride steers. She moved up to cows, then bulls. “My parents encouraged me, too,” she says.

A natural and competitive athlete, Pellam lettered four years in track and played volleyball for Paloma Valley High School and did the high jump, long jump, triple jump and 4×400 relay, reaching the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) finals four years in a row.

Her bull-riding career has been just as energetic. She qualified for the National Junior Bull Riders Association Finals eight years in a row, from 2002–09, finishing fourth in the nation in 2005 and seventh in 2007. (She won the Southern California section championships in 2004 and 2005 and the Northern California section championships in 2005 and 2006.)

She won the California state bull riding title in 2003 and 2005 and finished second in 2004 and 2006. And in 2009 she won the Open Bull Riding Champion title at the Vinita (Oklahoma) County Fair.

Pellam admits that she doesn’t give much pre-thought to the ride. “I just go with the flow. Jump the jump,” she quips. “I like bulls that have a variety of moves and jump high.”

Pellam, who is riding in the PBR with a permit, will become a card-carrying PBR member once she wins $2,500 in one year. Besides bull riding, she also competes in breakaway roping, breaks horses, gallops racehorses and gives riding lessons to children.

Now a senior at Oklahoma State University, Pellam has been a member of the OSU rodeo team and competes in team roping, breakaway roping and goat tying but is not allowed to compete in bull riding at the collegiate level. She’ll graduate in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and plans to go on to veterinary school and become a large-animal vet.

“I’ll continue to ride bulls,” she says, “but school is the most important thing.” And that’s no bull!


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