MISSOULA – Ashtyn Carlson has waited three years for her return to the College National Finals Rodeo.

In 2019, Carlson won the barrel racing national championship as a member of the College of Southern Idaho team. She joined the UM Rodeo team that fall in hopes of repeating as a national champion in barrel racing and developing her goat-tying and breakaway-roping skills to win an All-Around championship.

“That was my plan and then everything got messed up with COVID-19 and then I broke my ankle,” Carlson said. “But I’ll be back in the chute for another title.”

The business major from Loma, Colorado missed the entire 2021 season with a broken ankle, after the 2020 rodeo season was canceled due to COVID-19. Carlson returns to the national stage this month following a second-place finish in barrel racing in the Big Sky Region to qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming.

Carlson has her sights set on winning another gold buckle, the award given to national champions. She has competed at the professional level at events in Colorado and Utah and experienced other high-stakes rodeos, but she said nothing compares to the atmosphere at the College National Finals Rodeo.

“I tell people all the time that the college finals has so much more energy than any pro rodeo or other stage that I’ve been on in my entire career,” Carlson said. “It’s a lot to handle. If you can’t handle stress it’s probably not the place for you.”

Carlson found a home at Montana when she was recruited by UM Rodeo coach Kory Mytty, a former professional rodeo competitor who made the College National Finals Rodeo in 1988 and 1989 while at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon.

Mytty is always impressed by Carlson’s competitive spirit.

“Ashtyn is very fiery,” Mytty said. “She loves to win and is extremely competitive.”

Mytty, who coached 11 athletes on this year’s team, said the team is a mix of Montana residents and others from Canada and across the U.S., including New York, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

As the UM coach for the past 10 years, Mytty said the team has gained more fans each season. At the UM Spring Rodeo in Missoula earlier this year, more than 2,000 spectators came to watch each of the two nights of competition.

“We never had that many people at our college rodeo before,” Mytty said. “That was really a testament to people wanting to get out and get some entertainment.”

Carlson plans to offer more entertainment for rodeo fans next season. This is her senior year, but she will return next season to take advantage of an extra year offered due to the pandemic.

And with her at every rodeo is her horse, Stick, a dark bay Quarter Horse that Carlson has been riding for the past 12 years. Carlson rode Stick during the national championship in 2019 and will have him again this month in Wyoming.

“We have this language between us,” Carlson said. “We feed off each other’s energy. It’s something I can’t really explain. It’s just a bond.”

Nobody would blame Carlson if she eventually moves on from rodeo considering she still feels her healed ankle flare up during competition and has bone chips floating around both knees from her legs hitting the barrels so many times. But rodeo is her passion, and Carlson can’t wait to represent Montana at the National College Finals Rodeo next week, and hopefully next year.

“People always talk about Texas or Arizona when they talk about college rodeo, but I want to get Montana in people’s minds,” Carlson said. “I want to get us on the map and get more recruits here in the next few years. That’s my goal.”

- by Kyle Spurr, UM News Service -