KLIPSAN BEACH - When Kathi Woolliscroft was five years old she was the youngest rodeo trick rider in the United States and she was among the elite five or six trick riders in the country until she began raising a family at age 18 and retired from the sport.
Woolliscroft, who has lived next to picturesque Loomis Lake with husband Jess the past 15 years, rode in the Long Beach Saddle Club's Rodeo in her pre-teen years when the event was still held where the Fire Hall and Little League field now are located. She vividly recalls putting on her exhibitions of riding excellence at the new arena on Sandridge Road, as well.
"My dad (Gene Collins) was an old-fashioned cowboy and my mom (Jinx) pushed me to practice every day except when there was ice on the ground," Kathi said. "We lived on a 398 acre farm on Scott Lake near Olympia and my dad bought and sold quarter horses. I helped him shoe horses for $6 per head, too."
Kathi remembers coming to Long Beach for the rodeo just like it was yesterday. "The sand was so deep I could feel it on my hair when I would do the Death Drag (a trick where the rider leans off the horse backwards and puts her head near the ground) and I was always afraid my horse might stumble," she recalls.
"I was only scared a few times when I was riding," Kathi said. "The Death Drag was always dangerous and a trick called Around the Horn scared me because I slipped once and fell, but my horse came right back to me to see if I was OK." Through hours of practice and getting to know her horses she overcame her fears.
Kathi earned $100 per trick ride and she did up to seven different trick rides per day. Over a three-day weekend she could earn over $2,000. "The money I made really helped the family out," she says. "I didn't even know I was doing anything special. I just thought it was what I did." The New York News magazine of Oct. 15, 1961, felt what young Miss Collins did was special enough to have a four-page photo essay about the trick riding phenom from Olympia.
Fame ran in the Collins family as Gene was All-around Grand Champion rodeo cowboy in the U.S. in 1943 and Jinx later also became a trick rider. Kathi participated in rodeos in Ellensburg, Omak, and Bozeman, Mont. to name only a few stops on her summer tour. "From June through September while I was growing up we would travel every weekend and be home a few days in the middle of the week to do the farm work," Kathi explains. "I remember many a night curling up in my sleeping bag above the cab of the horse trailer and feeling the horse's breath on me as I fell asleep."
For practice Kathi would ride between her mom and dad in a course the length of the rodeo grounds in which she was to perform. "I had to complete each trick ride before the end of the arena because the horses were trained to come to a quick halt. I would have been thrown off if I were still doing the trick," she says. Kathi also did exercises to help perfect her style. Buff Brady, who did many trick rides in the movies over the years for all the famous Hollywood cowboy stars, helped her with balance and such things as keeping her legs straight and toes pointed much like a gymnast must do.
"I remember at the Omak Stampede Rodeo I did all the trick rides, but they wouldn't let me go down the big hill for the Suicide Race because I was too little and they were afraid I'd get hurt," she says with a smile. "The only time I got an injury was when I broke my nose because I was showing off for my cousins one day and I ran into a tree in our yard."
"Pride goes before a fall," she says quoting the Bible that Kathi and Jess have put at the center of their lives.
Jess logged for 30 years and for the past 15 has been employed at the Dunes Bible Camp and Kathi now volunteers there and is also a hairdresser for senior citizens. The Woolliscrofts' are active members of Peninsula Baptist Church.
"I loved my life growing up by Scott Lake swimming and fishing in the summer. I loved all four of my horses (Tony, Engine, Sugar Foot and Sunday) and since I didn't have any siblings I spent a lot of time with each one. They and the other critters on our farm became my best friends," Kathi explains of her childhood.
After giving up trick riding she has not ridden a great deal since. "Two of my granddaughters each have a horse and I've ridden them [their horses] a couple of times, but I'm not about to train the girls as trick riders," she says. "I would love to ride more often, but Jess is very allergic to horses and I just haven't had the opportunity since I stopped trick riding."
Kathi Woolliscroft still goes faithfully to the local rodeo every year. "It brings back memories," she says softly. Even though her trick riding career ended in 1966, there has likely not been a trick rider at the Long Beach Rodeo since who conjures up the memories of skill, grace and courage in a young girl that Kathi gave to her audiences from the late 1950s on.