MISSOULA – Ashtyn Carlson has hit barrels so many times from the saddle that she’s got bone chips in both knees. At 20 years old, she says that’s the price for speed.
The University of Montana junior from Loma, Colorado, is the newest addition to UM’s Grizzly Rodeo team, but she’s made a name for herself as one of the country’s fastest collegiate horsewomen ̶ able to gracefully transverse a cloverleaf pattern in between metal water barrels with her horse in record time.
She’s got the belt buckle to prove it.
“I’m almost too afraid to wear it around because it’s my favorite thing,” Carlson says of her College National Finals Rodeo belt buckle, engraved in gold and silver, given only to first-place finishers. “I don’t want it getting scratched or dirty.”
Last year, she won first place in barrel racing at the CNFR, helping her team win the National Reserve Women’s Team title. Before that, she won the reserve women’s all-around title and the reserve champion barrel racing title for the Rocky Mountain region. In 2018, she took home the title for National Barrel Racing Rookie of the Year and qualified for the past two years to compete in goat tying and barrel racing at the college finals.
Carlson transferred to UM this fall after graduating from College of Southern Idaho, and now the petite barrel racer has her eyes set on more national titles, as well as a UM marketing degree.
“I’m just really excited and happy to be here ̶ I love it,” Carlson said. “Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. The team immediately took me in.”
Her quick trajectory from rodeo rookie to ESPN highlight started as a freshman in high school at Grand Junction. She never set foot in a rodeo arena before then. Quickly finding her footing with a knack for goat tying and barrels, she started qualifying for regional and national events. She entered SCI on a full ride rodeo scholarship and found herself breaking 14 seconds for barrel racing. The fastest recorded time is 13.46 seconds, a National Finals Rodeo record held by Carlee Pierce.
At UM, Carlson said she hopes to three-peat as National Barrel Racing Champion.
“I love to go fast,” Carlson said. “There’s just something about speed paired with the agility of an incredibly athletic horse. It’s addicting.”
Carlson is a junior in UM’s College of Business. Despite having the biggest truck in the residence hall parking lot and getting some strange looks when she carries her rope across campus, Carlson said UM already feels like home ̶ especially with UM Rodeo team dinners providing one of the best nights of the week.
As she settles into advanced marketing classes this fall, she hopes to learn more about branding strategies and communication formulas that she can apply to the horse world. Calling her classwork “challenging and intimidating, but in a good way,” Carlson said she’s as focused with her academics as she is on the back of her horse, Stick, a dark bay registered as RGR Golden Oak.
“I view school in the same way I do training horses: one day at time,” she said. “It takes a lot patience and practice, and you’ve got to be open to feedback and help.”
Carlson already has a head start on her business classmates: She owns and operates ABC Performance Horses, branded after her own name – Ashytn Bree Carlson.
Calling the company her “side hustle,” she trains and markets rodeo horses in spare time between rodeo circuits. During her first six months of operation, she garnered more than $50,000 in sales. Her business acumen landed her a sponsorship from the app Rodeo Buddy, which tracks horse sales and training characteristics. She’s also sponsored by MVP Horse Supplements, Rock & Roll Denim, Heart4Brand, and A Heart for Horses Inc. – a Montana horse rescue nonprofit.
Contacts in her phone include some of the biggest names in professional rodeo like Hailey Kinsel, an American World barrel racing champion and NFR regular, and Jody Sheffield, NFR qualifier and former winner of the prestigious Pendleton RoundUp.
Carlson said the female culture of support in competitive rodeo inspires her.
“In any individual sport, there’s going to be people rooting for your downfall,” she said. “But in rodeo, people just want to see you do your best. I love that part about it.”
Carlson recalls a recent event when she witnessed a competitor’s horse bolt, fall and get badly tangled in the gate.
“Right after the accident, there were 10 people lined up outside the gate, most of the women, ready to offer that girl their horse for her next round. That moment just really stuck with me.”
Carlson said UM’s Rodeo Team culture of generosity and support is a key reason she chose UM. She was recruited by some of the nation’s top rodeo colleges – many of them Big 12 schools – but settled on UM, largely to due to rodeo coach Kory Mytty.
“I remember when I made mistakes in my first time at the college finals ̶ Mytty congratulated me and made me feel better, even though I was from a completely different school at the time. That really meant a lot.”
For Mytty, now in his eighth year coaching at UM, Carlson’s addition to the UM Rodeo team means Carlson will have the opportunity to hone her skills and enjoy being part of a team.
“Not just for Ashtyn, but for any athlete on our team, my hope is that they do well competing in rodeo but also focus on the great education here at UM,” he said. “These athletes only have a handful of years to really experience rodeo as a team sport. After that, it’s all about the individual, so it’s important they make sure they can make a living and that comes from a UM education.”
In addition to Carlson, UM rodeo athletes include Kris Anderson, Rachel Cutler, Meagan Harris, Taylor Harris, Colton Johns, Madison Mcglaughlin and Jackson Stephens.
UM’s Rodeo Team competes in the Big Sky Region under the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. The team competes in five rodeos each in the fall and spring. A rodeo schedule can be found at http://www.umt.edu/umrodeo/.