Elk Point Rodeo Family Says They’re In This Together

Lura Roti

Qualifying for Junior High & High School National Finals Rodeo since she was 12, Riley Donnelly is a successful South Dakota rodeo athlete. But if you ask her the reason for her success, before she mentions the 40-plus hours a week she spends in the barn practicing – the 2020 graduate of Elk Point-Jefferson High School credits her family.

“I’ve had a lot of people helping me along the way,” Riley says. “My Grandpa George used to help us all the time. My dad taught me how to rope and ride and constantly pushes me to get better. My cousins and my sister help me a lot. It really helped to have the older examples. I look up to them.”

Driving home with her family June 7 from her first South Dakota High School Rodeo (SDHSR) of the 2020 season, Riley is excited because she qualified for the State High School Rodeo in all events except goat tying. And there’s still time. Riley competes in reining, cutting, barrel racing, team roping (with partner, Shane Anderson), goat tying, breakaway roping and pole bending.

“My goal is to make it to the High School Rodeo National Finals again this year.”

Black Hills State University recognized her for her abilities, with the Floyd Scholarship. This fall she will join their rodeo team. Although 2020 is Riley’s last SDHSR season, with two younger sisters, Brooklyn, 8 and Ashton, 5, it won’t be the last SDHSR season for the Donnelly family.

“I’m excited that we will keep getting to do this,” says mom, Jaimie. She explains that during the workweek, life on the Donnelly farm is a bit chaotic. So, rodeoing together on the weekends is when the family gets to catch up and spend quality time together. “When we’re home, Cory’s working all the time, Riley’s at the barn and the (little) girls are off doing their thing. So, just traveling, staying in our motorhome, and being at the rodeo together, that’s our family time.”

The Donnelly family raise crops and cattle near Elk Point, with Cory’s brother, Chuck and his family.

They also run a retail meat business, The Meat Barn. Although rodeo falls in the midst of busy season on the farm, Cory agrees with Jaimie. “Just all of us doing this together,” he says. “You know, rodeo gives you a chance to get away from the stress of what’s been going on with everything. But at the same point, everybody’s there for each other. They are our ‘summer family.’”

Even though Riley is the only family member competing in High School Rodeo, during rodeos every family member has a role, explains Jaimie. “Cory is helping coach her, while I have the little girls to look after. Brooklyn and Ashton help me take times of all the contestants, so at the end of that event she can see where she’s sitting. I also videotape her events so she can go back and watch them to see what she did right or what she needs to work on.”

Although Cory and Chuck did some roping at jackpots together when their daughters were young, the family began rodeoing together when Riley’s older sister, Payton was a seventh grader. Today, Payton competes on the University of Wyoming Rodeo Team. “I just love it,” the 22-year-old says. “I’m very competitive, so I love the competition side of it. I love to work with the horses – I ride every day. And honestly, I’ve met all my closest friends through rodeo.”

Although they compete against each other in the arena, she explains when it comes to helping each other out, rodeo is unlike any other sport. “I played other sports all throughout high school, and I always wanted to be the best…to stand out. But with rodeo, we really help each other out. I have always had girls that were older than me help me out. I really struggled with goat tying in high school, and so they would always offer to help or give me tips.”

Payton is eager to continue this tradition, spending time throughout the summer months helping Riley out. “Throughout the years I’ve enjoyed watching Riley grow and succeed in Rodeo,” she says. “Looking back on where we started, and to see how advanced we are now, knowing that you can help somebody out with that, I think is really kind of a selfless act that is appreciated.”

Rodeo does a good job reinforcing responsibility and looking out for others before myself, Riley adds.

“Taking care of all the horses really makes you grow up a little bit. I understand that it is not all about me.”

Throughout the rodeo season, Riley’s number one responsibility is to her six Quarter Horses: Clyde, poles; Cocoa, breakaway; Angus, team roping and goat tying; Kitty, reining; Suzie, cutting and Hottie, barrel racing (Suzie and Kitty are both borrowed from friend, Bill Curry and Hottie is barrowed from Uncle Chuck). During the week, she spends the day practicing with and caring for them. “I have a really good connection with all my horses. I’ve been competing with the same ones – like my pole horse, Clyde – for nine years now. So, I kinda know everything about him and he kinda knows everything about me.”

Follow Riley’s progress during the State Rodeo Finals held in Ft. Pierre June 16-20, 2020 or visit South Dakota Farmers Union is a proud sponsor of the SDHSRA. To view more photos of the Donnelly family, visit

–South Dakota Farmers Union