Wendy. Wendell. Holly. Not the names of children's book characters, but rather a few bum calves that found a benefactor in Rylee Whitman.
Born and raised in Big Piney, Wyoming, Rylee grew up on the family ranch understanding the importance of hard work. She was raised knowing horse was partner and cattle was income. She's been cutting since she was 9 and by 15 was running her own calf business. To spend more time with her horses during the short winter days, she insisted on being homeschooled for a year and a half of her high school career.
"When I was a junior, I decided I didn't like public school at all, so I decided I wanted to be homeschooled my senior year and half of my junior year," she says. "I'd go to school in the morning. Sometimes it would take me three hours to do my work, and sometimes it would take me literally all day. But my dad made it so that I could go to school and then go out and be on my horses. He'd give me a job to do on my horses [that would help him with the chores]."
Rylee values that time with her horses. She's had her horse Chief since 2014 and regularly competes on him. A childhood incident left her scared of horses for a while, but after starting to ride again a few years later, Rylee found her love of riding and cutting.
"I really love how you really have to be bonded with your horse [in cutting]," Rylee says. "It's not just get on and go. You have to prepare about an hour before. It's like roping, where you can get on any horse and go rope. You really have to know your horse. You have to know what their flaws are and what your flaws are and work on them both at the same time. It's challenging."
From a family of cutters, Rylee recognizes that it is a family sport. Her grandfather Steve James, a cutting horse trainer, has the whole family cutting. Rylee says her mom, aunts, then her dad and brother all cut. At home, the family practices cutting on some of the bum calves from their cattle operation.
Rylee took a bum calf one year to nurse and slowly grew her calf business. She bought calves from neighbors who didn't have the time or means to aide their calves and gave them milk. At age 15, Rylee had about 13 calves that she cared for and sold back to friends who were ready for the more mature, healthy animals back in their herd. Although the operation only lasted for about a year, Rylee's business savvy has kept her without loans for college, shocking many of classmates and faculty.