Over the last 13 years, Mandijo Wood has compiled seven all-around saddles as a barrel racer but she said the most recent one from the Austin County Youth Rodeo Association earlier this month was a little sweeter in her final year of competing in her local rodeo.
“I feel very accomplished, I went out with a bang,” said Wood, a Brazos High School graduate. “I didn't think I was going to win the saddle. I was just going to do it for fun since this is my last year. At the end with two or three rodeos left, my mom said ‘Hey, you're winning.’”
Wood, who turned 20 in February and will age-out of ACYRA competition, said there was no added pressure to go out and capture first place down the stretch but she did just that by relying on the consistency built up with her horse Jack which carried them to the third all-around saddle from ACYRA.
“It was kind of nerve wracking but I just did what I always do,” Wood said of the preparation that went into her final goes. “My horse and me are very consistent, we don't knock poles or barrels over so consistency always wins. (The other competitors) could have a really nice horse but only do it three out of 10 times. They could win those three times but if I'm consistent all 10, (the results speak for themselves).”
Wood’s mother, Lissa Johnson, said 50 belt buckles were won since Mandijo started rodeoing, in addition to what would have been an eighth all-around saddle but that rodeo awarded a cash prize instead. It was her mother who Wood credited with getting her involved with rodeo to begin with.
“My mom started me whenever I could sit up by myself,” Wood said “She actually put me in a bucket, they cut out a hole for my legs to go out and they screwed it onto a saddle, and that was my saddle. I was called the bucket baby.”
From bucket baby, Wood soon experienced the rodeo competition for real and was immediately hooked, turning herself into a rodeo champion which has led to visions of herself rodeoing for the foreseeable future.
“There's several ladies there that are in their seventies, and they're still out there just going nuts on these horses,” Johnson said of the riding arena they frequent.
“I plan on doing that when I get that age,” Wood said. “(The kids are) going to be like ‘What is that old lady doing up over there?’ I'm gonna beat all you.”
She said despite the long wait time compared to the quickness of the actual run, the adrenalin rush is second to none.
“You sit there for eight hours, and the whole thing combined is like three minutes so you spend eight hours to do three minutes of running but the adrenaline is so much fun and the competition of winning, that's really why I do it,” Wood said.
Wood plans on passing down her passion to her daughter Vallerie, who was just born in February but has already attended her first rodeo.
“She doesn't have her first horse yet, but she's already been on a horse herself,” Johnson said of her granddaughter. “We've already discussed the first pony and we're only five months old.”
The timing worked out just right that the ACYRA was the first rodeo Wood could participate in after having her daughter and she was able to finish that chapter of her competition career similar to the beginning, with the all-around saddle.
“It was a good rodeo to grow up with, the same people have been there since I was little, so they're still there,” Wood said. “They're acquaintances. I don't hang out with them. They're not enemies, but I grew up with them my whole life and it was just a good rodeo to start with.”