Sky is the Limit

Posted in: Barrel Racing, Featured, Rodeo


Nikki Hansen and Sky at the 2018 Kalispell, Mont. rodeo. Photo by Josh Homer/Burning Ember Photography. 

A very special horse changed the course of Nikki Steffes Hansen’s life.

Because of Sky High Guy, the South Dakota barrel racer is training horses and competing on them instead of being a dentist.

This year, she’s decided to retire the seventeen-year-old palomino from professional competition.

She and Sky’s paths crossed when he was a four-year-old and she was a college student, working summers for Bill and Deb Myers.

She began riding him at futurities in 2008, making the short round at about every event they were in. “We had a lot of success,” she remembers. Sky won close to $50,000 that year, with Donnie Reece and Jordon Peterson Briggs riding him, too.

But he and Nikki had a special bond.

A stallion, the Myers decided to stand him at stud. After throwing three colts, Sky came up infertile, so he was gelded at age seven.

In 2012, two years after college graduation, Nikki made the National Finals Rodeo on a different horse. She had been accepted to the University of Nebraska Dental School, but the school allowed her to defer her education while she focused on barrel racing.

The next year, because of her top fifteen finish, she could run in all the big winter shows, but she was without a horse.

So she called Deb Myers and asked what Sky was doing.

Deb told her, “he’s out there, eating hay right now.”

So Nikki was back on Sky, and it didn’t take long for them to get back in the groove.

After a few weeks, they ran at Houston, and “we jumped in with the wolves,” she said. “He did very well. He was very competitive and we made money. He made some mistakes, but it was like reuniting with an old friend.”

That spring, she bought him, and decided not to go to dental school.

Throughout their years together, the duo qualified for the Canadian Finals, won $10,000 at Edmonton, Alberta, won the Badlands Circuit Finals three times (2013, 16-17), and finished in the top twenty in the world standings in 2018.

It is even more remarkable that Sky suffered two super flexor tendon injuries, back-to-back, in 2014-2015, but came through rehab and was just as competitive as he was prior to the injuries.

The horse has rodeos that he loves, Nikki said. “It seems like he always does well at his favorite rodeos,” she said, “Mandan, (N.D.), Mobridge and Killdeer (S.D.) being some of them. I ran him where I knew he loved it.”


One of Sky’s favorite arenas is Mandan, N.D. Nikki rides him for the 2018 title. Photo courtesy Jackie Jensen.

Sky, Nikki Hansen’s barrel horse, is led by her daughter Elsie. Photo courtesy Nikki Hansen.

He did well, no matter the size of the arena. “He could win in very big wide-open patterns, like Cheyenne, but also in Edmonton, a thirteen second pattern in a hockey rink. He was so versatile.”

Even though he was a stallion till the age of seven, he was a “perfect gentleman,” Nikki said.

She remembers when her and husband Alfred’s daughter, Elsie, was born in 2017. “We were rodeoing with a baby, and Sky, he knew. He was so careful around her and the stroller. He just knew.”

She recalls one time, at the Clear Lake, S.D. rodeo that year, when Elsie was fussy and Nikki didn’t have time to warm him up, as she tried to comfort Elsie. “I didn’t get on him till they were starting the barrels, and he went out and won the rodeo.

“He just knew. He was such an intuitive horse. He could sense things.”

Now Sky has a new rider: Elsie.

The four-year-old rides him at home.

“He’s a big, powerful horse, and when she gets on him, he doesn’t hardly move a muscle. She has to kick him to get him to go. He’s so careful with her.”

Sky is now 17, and Nikki knows she could be working as a dentist right now.

“I was on the fence about what to do,” she said, when Sky came back into her life.

“But Sky just reignited my passion for barrel racing and training, and he showed me this is what I love to do. He really reaffirmed that decision for me.

“He’s never leaving our place.”


Elsie Hansen rides her mom’s retired barrel horse Sky. Photo courtesy Nikki Hansen.

Posted in: Barrel Racing, Featured, Rodeo

About Ruth Nicolaus

Ruth is a rodeo publicist who loves the Great Plains and its people. She can be found behind the chutes at a rodeo, working in her flower garden, or cooking, some of her favorite things to do....

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