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Proud mom and legendary rodeo journalist

Proud mom and legendary rodeo journalist

Proud mom and legendary rodeo journalist

Authentic, trustworthy, determined, passionate. Ask any of the world’s best cowboys and these are the words you hear again and again as they describe Kendra Santos.

2021-05-01

Kendra’s career in journalism spans more than 35 years, and she has made it her life’s work to tell the stories of the athletes who participate in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging sports. She was the first one who stepped onto the dirt after late and legendary bull rider Lane Frost won his world bull riding championship, and she also experienced the heartbreak of his tragic death. She was standing with Larry Mahan when Ty Murray surpassed his all-around record, then made sure that Ty was there to shake the hand of Trevor Brazile when he broke the record again.

To these world-class athletes, Kendra isn’t just another journalist there to get a sound bite for a story. She’s a friend, a confidant, a sister, and for two cowboys, she’s mom. This year, in celebration of Mother’s Day – a day in which we honor the important women in our lives – we’re flipping the script and sharing Kendra’s story, from her early days roping and riding to her tireless work over the last three and a half decades to give rodeo and its cowboys and cowgirls a voice.

“I would have never dreamt that you could make an entire career out of writing cowboys’ stories.”

For Tuff Hedeman, Kendra’s work brings a real perspective to the sport of rodeo, which she’s been able to do because it’s what she grew up around. Everyone in Kendra’s family – her grandpa, dad, brothers and sons – is a cowboy. While she rode jumping horses and played softball, soccer, basketball and volleyball as a young girl growing up in Portola Valley, California, rodeo is in her blood, and it was rodeo that she always returned to.

“I don’t think any journalist you can come up with would have more knowledge of the ins and outs of the sport,” Tuff says. “And I think without a doubt (Kendra) has more integrity than a lot of journalists I know put together.”
Tuff Hedeman, and Kendra Santos
Left to Right: Tuff Hedeman and Kendra Santos
Photo Courtesy: Sue Rosoff

Kendra followed her passion to Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, where she competed on the rodeo team and serendipitously landed in the journalism department, then earned a master’s degree in business. After college, she would get her first big break when ProRodeo Hall of Fame announcer Bob Tallman passed along her name to the team at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

“The facts in the rodeo world are more amazing than any fiction anyone could make up.”

Today, Kendra has written for virtually every major organization – including long-term stints as both the PRCA Director of Communications and Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Editor in Chief – covering rodeo as well as working on the founding teams of numerous rodeo publications, including The Team Roping Journal and American Cowboy. She continues to write for such industry powerhouses as Western Horseman and the American Quarter Horse Association Journal.

What makes Kendra such an exceptional storyteller isn’t just her background and knowledge of rodeo, it’s the way she connects with the person she’s interviewing, and her desire to make the sport better for its athletes.

Kendra spends hours with the cowboys and cowgirls she interviews. She’s gained the trust and respect of the sport’s top athletes, and it’s why they call her to write their most important stories. “It’s not always easy in a predominantly male sport for a woman to get accepted and trusted. You could go down the line for the last several generations of cowboys, and you’re not going to find anyone who doesn’t like and trust Kendra,” says Ty Murray.

Ty Murray and Kendra Santos
Left to Right: Ty Murray and Kendra Santos

When Joe Beaver decided he was ready to retire, he called Kendra. “For a long time she was the only reporter I would talk to. I had the comfort of knowing that whatever I told her, it would be put in a way the public could understand, but it would still be in my words,” says Joe Beaver. “I think what she’s done for so many rodeo people on the contestant end is that she’s given the public a look into who they really are, and sometimes that’s a huge hidden secret from the rodeo world.”

Jenna Beaver, Brody Beaver, Joe Beaver, and Kendra Santos
Left to Right: Jenna Beaver, Brody Beaver, Joe Beaver, and Kendra Santos
Photo Courtesy: Bonnie Beaver

The longevity of Kendra’s career has given her a unique perspective on the rodeo industry. She’s not only witnessed the evolution of the sport, but also had the opportunity to follow the careers of rodeo families, first covering fathers and then their sons. “She’s preserving the history and the future of the sport, because she tells a story. She’s the tie that binds our industry together from generation to generation,” says Trevor Brazile.

Kendra Santos and Trevor Brazile
Left to Right: Kendra Santos and Trevor Brazile

Kaycee Feild still cherishes the stories Kendra wrote about his dad, two-time PRCA World Champion Bareback Rider and three-time All-Around Champion Lewis Feild, who passed away in 2016. At the end of a tumultuous stretch, Kaycee made history in December 2020 by winning his fifth bareback riding world title. One of the first people to congratulate him after his last ride was Kendra. “To have her be there and interview me after I won my fifth world title, and to have her show up shortly after winning it...it felt like my dad’s presence. Kendra felt it, too.”

Walt Garrison, Kendra Santos, and Lewis Feild at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City 2011
Left to Right: Walt Garrison, Kendra Santos, and Lewis Feild at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. (2011)
Photo Courtesy: NCWHM
“Time flies and my little boys are grown, but I’m so proud of the cowboys and men they are now.”

Despite her incredible success as a journalist, it’s her sons, Lane Santos Karney and Taylor Santos Karney, Kendra is most proud of. “For as respected as she is, she’s an even better mom. She’s done a lot for the sport, but I could not have asked for a better mom,” Lane says.

When the boys were young, Kendra would take Lane and Taylor with her to the rodeos while she worked. This would have a lasting impact on her sons, as they grew up watching their mom form friendships with their heroes. Now successful cowboys in their own right, Lane and Taylor are getting to experience what all the greats before them have as well – interviews about their success, sometimes conducted by their mom.

Kendra hugging her son, Taylor Santos after winning the Timed Event Championship in 2020
Kendra hugging her son, Taylor Santos after winning the Timed Event Championship in 2020.

After qualifying for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2019, Taylor won the 2020 Cinch Timed Event Championship. “So many people have to call home at big events. It’s so awesome that she gets to be at the big events because of her job,” says Taylor. “She was the first person there right after the victory lap. She was the first person I saw that I got to go hug.”

While many people in the industry admire Kendra for her journalism, they also praise her devotion to her sons. “She nailed that part (being a mom), too,” says Trevor Brazile. “She’s serving us and our way of life, and in the process raising two of the best humans I’ve ever been around in the sport. I hope I can do the job with my kids that she’s done with hers.”

“The greatest compliment is when people read my story and feel like they were there and got to know that cowboy.”

If you read any story that Kendra has written, you’re instantly transported. She has a way with words that makes it feel as if you’re right there in the arena watching history happen, while simultaneously feeling like you’re sitting around a kitchen table hearing rodeo legends retell the greatest moments of their careers.

She has opened the eyes of so many people to the sacrifice and effort that go into reaching the highest level of rodeo, and left her mark on generations of cowboys and cowgirls. Joe Beaver says it best, “She is who she is everyday. She is the top jewel of a crown. That’s Kendra.”

Kendra, on behalf of all of us in the western industry, thank you. For your unwavering dedication, your genuine passion and authentically representing the stories and the people in the sport of rodeo.

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