Steamboat cowgirl continues to chase her equine dreams
August 21, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The chickens survived, and 8-year-old Alexis Len was adamant her father, Brian, hold up his end of the bargain.
"My dad said, when I was 7, if I could raise chickens by myself for a year then I could buy my own horse," Len said. "And I did that. It was a tough year. I broke my elbow. It was a little rough, but the chickens were great. They stayed alive."
A few months later, Alexis Len would have not one, but two, horses at their family home just northwest of Steamboat Springs, a continuation of her cowgirl lifestyle that began when she first started riding horses as a 2-year-old in the Flat Tops.
Now 19, the 2014 Steamboat Springs High School graduate hasn't strayed from her life's passion. Under the lights Friday at Brent Romick Arena, Len straddled Lulu, her horse of the last seven years, awaiting the spotlight as the final barrel racer of the night. Cheering her on as usual was her childhood friend, Mackenzie Holmberg, boyfriend, Enrique Lopez, and mother, Maribeth Len.
"She just amazes me. That girl's got more talent than a lot of people," said Holmberg, who is a Coca-Cola cowgirl for the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series. "It's really cool, because Lexi and I have grown up and rode together for years. She's always been there for me, so being able to come back and support her — we go to all of each other's events that we can."
Len isn't a professional — yet. She received her permit card earlier this year, her first competing in the local rodeo series she grew up watching. In order to gain professional status, contestants need to earn at least $1,000 in a year, something she is still working toward.
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But it's not about money or fame for Len. She rides because she loves it, almost as much as Lulu. And this summer has been more about fulfilling childhood dreams, dreams she has been chasing since her decade-long stint in Routt County 4-H.
"It's a dream just to go into a performance and hear my name get called by John Shipley," Len said of the longtime rodeo announcer. "I was always dreaming about that, so I'm glad I did it this year, just to live my dream. It was the best experience I've probably ever had."
Len was a multisport athlete in high school, competing in both volleyball and soccer her first three years. But the itch to ride competitively was too much her senior season, when she decided to give up soccer and give high school rodeo a try. She spent the spring of her senior year competing in the Wyoming high school rodeo series, which proved to be a major stepping-stone for what was to come.
"She is a different kid when she can be on her horse," Maribeth Len said. "We've spent lots of time on the road, especially with the Wyoming high school rodeo. Eight hours in the Dodge with the horses, coming back at two in the morning on Sunday night so she could go to school Monday morning … it makes me get teary eyed to see how far she's come and how hard she works for it."
Len attended Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood last year, studying photography. With Friday's performance signaling her last rodeo of the summer, she is headed back to Denver, this time to attend the Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology, where she hopes to make a career out of equine medicine.
While on the Front Range, she has been competing in Mile Hi barrel racing. The comparative lack of snow in Denver and indoor facilities gives her a chance to train year-round, and she has seen improvement in her skills over the past year.
She will take the semester off from rodeo to focus on school, but it's clear this layoff won't last long. When she thinks back to her first Steamboat pro rodeo this summer and the thrill that came with it, the pull toward the saddle is too much for the local cowgirl.
"The atmosphere was so fun and upbeat. I was nervous but I was so excited," Len said of her first pro rodeo. "Even though it wasn't my best run at all, it was the best feeling to hear everyone screaming your name. Lulu gets so much more amped up when she hears it. It was so awesome. I'll never forget that moment."