From the January 2020 Issue, Photos by Hubert Gonzalez
Loni Kay Lester was born and raised in Gonzalez, Texas.
“I was blessed with two amazing parents, a brother, a sister, sister-in-law and five great nieces and nephews,” she said. “I come from a huge family and both sides are together every Sunday morning in church. God truly blessed me with a supportive group.”
The rest of Loni’s family makes a living in poultry and deer, but she couldn’t stay away from horses!
“It became an addiction,” she said. “Although everyone thinks I’m crazy, they are super supportive of my lifestyle.”
Loni started roping in seventh grade.
“I think I just was so intrigued with rodeo, horses and the different events that I had to do it too. I have had so many great teachers along the way that involved helping me get better with a rope,” she said. “I wish they all knew how much they meant to me with my horsemanship and helping me be mounted to the best of my ability.”
Loni continued her love of horses in college.
“I graduated with an animal science degree from Sam Houston State University, where I rodeoed on the team for 4 years,” she said.
Loni and her team were like a family, and she had a great finals in 2017.
“I was blessed to win the College National Finals breakaway title, and all around title in 2017 where we took first in the women’s team as well,” she said.
She also won the third round in the barrels, and had the fastest time of the whole college finals.
One of her other favorite rodeo memories was winning $25,000 at the Diamonds and Dirt sweepstakes and open barrel race in April 2019.
“Another one, my first futurity in November 2019 in Guthrie at the BFA, my three-year-old Grace that I raised and trained won $13,000 in her first two competition runs in her whole life and ended up winning Reserve Champion Juvenile Horse at the BFA,” she said.
“I think this meant so much to me because her mother had a career ending injury when I was in college, and it was really tough on me because I planned to try and rodeo, and make the NFR on this mare. It really took my world for a spin, but after breeding her and raising and training this baby I do know I serve a good God, and no matter how bad something can go wrong in our lives, he ALWAYS has something better lined up. He will never take away something without replacing it with something better. He knows what we need and when we need it.”
Between barrel racing and breakaway roping, Loni travels a lot, and her horses have to be able to keep up.
“I do travel a lot, I try to focus during the week on getting futurity prospects out and about at weekly exhibitions and jackpots and season others on the weekends at Ameatur rodeos,” she said. “I do not have a favorite place, I tend to be everywhere like a gypsy so my horses get used to every type of arena.”
Balancing rodeo and life can be tough, but Loni keeps a strong work ethic.
“Balancing rodeo has always been tough, I feel like I have always been the black sheep of the family when I miss family events sometimes. No matter if I was playing sports in high school, late night/early morning basketball practices, or staying up late to exercise horses after a family members birthday party — it has always taken a lot of work and dedication,” she said. “This sport isn’t for the weak-hearted I will say that. I guess I try to be a ‘planner’ and really plan out my week and weekends ahead of time so I can make sure to be at important events.”
And with supportive parents, anything is possible.
“I’ll never forget my parents taking the time out of their schedules to haul me from rodeo to rodeo and doing everything to support me and keep me going while balancing sports and horses throughout high school,” she said. “Many late night/early morning youth rodeos to help me, and experience me to get me where I am today.”
Loni continues to travel across the country with her family and horses in tow.
“The most popular ones in my barn starting out with my calf horse who I am so grateful for is Boss Tin Lights, aka Boss. He is by the great stud CD lights. He has been such a blessing to me, he is almost like a great friend. I know if he is feeling good, he will go out there every time, and perform for me,” she said. “Another important one is my good pro rodeo mare - A Dash of Champagne aka champagne. She is a fire breathing dragon who loves to run and turn and I hope I can rodeo soon and try to make the finals one day, and give her a chance to shine.”
“I have amazing athletes in my barn and I can’t wait to see which young ones will step up and be in the starting line up. Raising and training takes a while, but it’s worth it in the end when they turn out.”
When she’s making good horses, Loni keeps three things in her corner: confidence, faith, and support.
- “Confidence is one— just trying not to get down on yourself because there are so many variables in our sport between horse and rider, calf and ground… it’s hard sometimes when you are not winning to lose confidence in yourself and your ability. Although that one good run, or that one great loop around a calf’s neck can turn everything around in a blink of your eye.”
- “Faith, knowing that however it turns out it will be okay, and God has such big plans for you if you choose to focus on him and live how he wants you to live.”
- “Having good people in your corner is so important. People who think the same as you, have good goals, are good people, people who support you, and love you. Not everyone is your friend that you will face and not everyone is for you. I try to keep my circle small, and just be the best I can be to other people and always know my family is always there for me and they are in my corner- lose or win.”
When she’s backing into a box, Loni keeps her faith first.
“I really try to quote the scripture when I back in the box, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I am such a competitor and can get really down on myself and mad, and I have to remind myself this is not why I’m here in life,” she said. “I try to remind myself that rodeo is not what’s most important in life. It’s what I do, not who I am. I am a child of God and I want people to be able to get closer to him through me. I try to just take three deep breaths, and have confidence in what I’ve practiced my whole life for. I guess I try to be ready for the moment if it’s my time to shine.”
Going into the new year, Loni has several bucket list rodeos to attend and goals to crush.
“I have several bucket list rodeos I want to attend. Starting with going on the road this summer and pro rodeoing (there are so many to pick from). Also breakaway ropings at the WCRA, breakaway ropings are starting to get a lot of great opportunities. I hope I can balance them all!”
“I [also] want to do well in the 2020 futurities on the filly I raised and trained. I also want to get into the top 30 in the world standings in the barrel racing. My goal is to get better as a rider, competitor, trainer and roper everyday.”