After the dust settled on the 2023-2024 rodeo season, the Texas Aggie Rodeo Team qualified six team members for the biggest stage in collegiate rodeo.

The competitive team in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Science will travel to Casper, Wyoming, and compete at the College National Finals Rodeo, CNFR, June 9-15.

The back of a rodeo vest that has the large block letter T with Texas A&M Rodeo written inside it and a cowboy riding a bucking horse across the center of the T
The Texas Aggie Rodeo Team qualified six team members to compete in the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, June 9-15. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

This year will be the third consecutive year, and 12 years total, for the Aggies to take a full women’s team to Casper.

Members of the team qualifying for CNFR include:

  • Gavin French ’25, Fredericksburg, animal science.
  • Trace Harris ’24, Poth, agricultural economics.
  • Tylie McDonald ’27, College Station, agricultural communications and journalism.
  • Madison Outhier ’25, Utopia, business marketing major and entrepreneurship minor.
  • Madalyn Richards ’25, Hereford, agricultural communications and journalism major and agricultural economics minor.
  • Emma Smith ’24, Pleasanton, agribusiness major and agricultural economics minor.

The Texas Aggie Rodeo Team claimed the following places in the southern region:

  • Champion Women’s Team: Richards, Outhier, McDonald and Smith.
  • Champion All Around Cowgirl: Richards.
  • Champion Bareback Rider: French.
  • Champion Breakaway Roper: Richards.
  • Reserve Champion Barrel Racer: Smith.
  • Third Place Steer Wrestling: Harris.
  • Third Place Goat Tyer: Richards.

The road to Casper

The road to Casper started last fall when the Aggie team competed in the first of 10 rodeos sanctioned by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, NIRA. Contestants across 11 regions of the U.S. compete in NIRA-sanctioned rodeos from September through April. Rodeo athletes can qualify for the pinnacle rodeo of the season as a team or as individuals. The top three individuals of each event and the top two men’s and women’s teams from each region punch their ticket to the CNFR.

“These students showed an enormous amount of work ethic to get to this point,” said Al Wagner, Ph.D., Texas Aggie Rodeo coach and food technologist in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. “This is a group of talented competitors who have worked hard to qualify at this level.”

Anyone who has been to a rodeo can see the competitors’ physicality and toughness. That toughness went a long way for the Aggie team members, said Roger Hanagriff, Ph.D., incoming rodeo coach.

“We knew we had a good team collectively and strong individuals, and it was just a matter of who was going to make it to finals,” said Hanagriff, who has helped coach the rodeo team for the last two years alongside Wagner and will take the reins as the full-time coach in August upon Wagner’s retirement. “It’s always fun when you finish that goal and know the answer.”

Wagner looks forward to seeing these student athletes’ dedication and hard work pay off in Casper as they represent Texas A&M University against more than 400 cowboys and cowgirls from more than 100 universities across the NIRA regions.

The six team members share a common thread — each shares the passion for “rodeo life” and has been part of the sport since before they can remember. As the students embark on the biggest competition of their collegiate rodeo careers, they shared highlights of their season and their post-college aspirations.

Gavin French

smiling male student in a tan cowboy hat
Gavin French is headed to the College National Finals Rodeo as the southern region Champion Bareback Rider. (James Phifer/Rodeo Bum Photography)

French started rodeoing at 4 years old as a mutton buster. As he grew older, French competed in various rodeo events, including calf riding and pony bareback riding. In high school, French began bareback riding and never looked back. He will compete in the bareback riding event at CNFR, coming on the heels of claiming the title of 2024 Southern Regional Champion Bareback Rider.

This past rodeo season had its share of ups and downs for French. After placing in the top rankings at three of the five rodeos during the first semester, he fell behind in the standings after missing one rodeo and experiencing an equipment malfunction during another. But French rebounded by winning four of the five spring season rodeos, which solidified his advancement to CNFR as champion.

French serves as capital campaign chair for the Texas Aggie Rodeo Team. After graduation in May 2025, French plans to rodeo professionally while attending graduate school. His future aspirations include attending dental school and opening his own dental practice.

Trace Harris

A smiling male student in a suit jacket outside with a cowboy hat on
Trace Harris will compete for the Texas Aggies Rodeo Team in steer wrestling at the College National Finals Rodeo. (Hadley Harris)

Harris’ rodeo life began when he was 3 years old, but he began steer wrestling as a freshman in high school.

Over the course of this season, Harris was a strong competitor. He secured champion steer wrestling titles at the McNeese State College Rodeo and the Texas A&M-Commerce College Rodeo, which solidified his trip to Casper.

Harris is a recent graduate of Texas A&M and will pursue a master’s degree at Texas A&M University-Commerce this fall while continuing to rodeo. He plans to stay in the sport of rodeo after completing graduate school and starting his career.

Tylie McDonald

A woman standing outdoors in blue jeans and a maroon vest with a cowboy hat
Tylie McDonald will compete in the breakaway roping event at the College National Finals Rodeo as a part of the Texas Aggies southern region Champion Women’s Team. (Double L Marketing)

McDonald learned how to ride a horse when she was 3 years old and was introduced to goat tying shortly after. Through her parents’ encouragement and discipline, she developed into a rodeo athlete and achieved her goal of qualifying for the CNFR as a freshman. McDonald qualified as part of the champion women’s team and will compete in the goat tying event in Casper.

During the season, McDonald faced physical adversity after suffering a torn tendon in her knee and tearing a muscle in her leg. The injuries forced her to take a three-month break, which required her to play catch-up during the spring season. Ultimately, McDonald was able to pull through and reach her goal of qualifying for the CNFR.

After graduation, McDonald hopes to attend law school and become an oil and gas attorney.

Madison Outhier

A smiling woman standing outdoors in blue jeans and a maroon vest with a straw cowboy hat on
Madison Outhier is headed to the College National Finals Rodeo as a part of the Texas Aggies southern region Champion Women’s Team and will compete in breakaway roping. (Double L Marketing)

Outhier began riding horses before she could walk and started roping at age 6. She has competed in rodeos most of her life and will take the stage at CNFR in the breakaway roping event. Outhier finished in fourth place in the region and qualified for CNFR as part of the champion women’s team.

Like other team members, Outhier experienced struggles during the season. However, she capitalized when needed most and qualified for CNFR for the second time in her collegiate rodeo career.

Outhier served as a social media chair on this year’s Texas Aggie Rodeo officer team. After graduating in 2025, Outhier plans to start a business and combine her love of rodeo with her entrepreneurial passion. She also hopes to impact the expansion and growth of the Western lifestyle industry.

Madalyn Richards

A woman standing outdoors in blue jeans and a maroon vest with a straw cowboy hat on and a big belt buckle showing
Madalyn Richards is headed to the College National Finals Rodeo as the southern region Champion All Around Cowgirl and Champion Breakaway Roper. (Double L Marketing)

Richards finished the regular rodeo season as the 2024 Southern Region Champion All-Around Cowgirl, Champion Breakaway Roper and third place in goat tying. She will compete in breakaway roping and goat tying at CNFR, events she has participated in since she was 6 years old.

Throughout the 2023-2024 season, she placed first in multiple goat tying and breakaway events, which secured her champion titles and a trip to CNFR, where she qualified as a team member and individual.

Richards serves on the rodeo officer team as a capital campaign chair. After her anticipated graduation in December, Richards will start a master’s program in agricultural economics focusing on ag policy. By continuing her education, she can remain a member of the Texas Aggie Rodeo team. Her future aspirations are to pursue a career in ag policy.

Emma Smith

A woman standing outdoors in blue jeans and a maroon vest with a straw cowboy hat on
Emma Smith is returning to the College National Finals Rodeo as a part of the Texas Aggie Rodeo Champion Women’s Team and the Reserve Champion Barrell Racer from the southern region. (Double L Marketing)

Smith will return to the CNFR for the third time to compete in the barrel racing event. Rodeo has impacted Smith’s life since she started competing at 7 years old.

She was named champion barrel racer at two rodeos this season, including the Texas A&M University Rodeo held in Bryan. Smith won the rodeo on the same mare that also helped her win the Texas A&M University Rodeo as a freshman in 2021. She qualified for CNFR individually and as a team member on the champion women’s team.

As a recent graduate, Smith is pursuing options for graduate school. Her future goal is to return to the family’s stocker cattle operation in South Texas as a seventh-generation cattlewoman and continue her family’s legacy.

Team preparation and legacy continue

The students continue to train for the week-long competition, which Hanagriff said will be physically and mentally demanding. The students will compete in three rounds throughout the week. If they qualify for the final round, they will compete on June 15.

Five rows of students either kneeling or standing on the steps of the Kleberg Animal & Food Sciences Center all dressed in jeans and maroon vests over blue long-sleeved shirts, with one coach in a maroon shirt.
The Texas Aggie Rodeo Team is sending six competitors to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, this year, keeping alive a 28-year streak of competition at the highest level. (Texas A&M AgriLife)

“It’s a grueling event, and we’ll be working to keep our focus steady,” Hanagriff said.

According to Wagner, the Texas Aggie Rodeo Team has qualified at least one rodeo athlete each year since 1996.

“We’re excited for these students to experience competition at the national level,” Wagner said. “Whether it’s their first, second or third time making it to CNFR, they won’t forget the feeling of competing on this stage.”

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