Jacey Hupp back in the saddle for her final SDSU Rodeo season


Ariana Schumaher, Reporter (She/her)

Rodeo has always been a way of life for Jacey  Hupp. 

She grew up in the saddle, alongside her siblings Cassy Hunter, Trevor Hupp and Tarin  Hupp, attending horse play dates and later starting her rodeo journey through 4-H rodeo when she was 8 years old.  

“My siblings and I have always been kind of just thrown on a horse, we have always been very comfortable on them,” senior agricultural communications student Jacey Hupp said. “Even if we were riding in my dad’s saddle that was far too big, we were still riding.”  

When she began looking at colleges, Hupp originally thought that she would go elsewhere and play college volleyball. But older sister Tarin convinced her to attend South Dakota State University and participate in rodeo, a decision that Hupp does not regret.  

Hupp has had a great rodeo career at SDSU, competing in goat tying and breakaway roping. She also serves as a header for team roping.  

The Life Changing Rodeo:  

Hupp’s life changed forever Oct. 6, 2018 while participating in the team roping event at a rodeo in McCook, Nebraska.

During the third round, she roped her steer, but only caught one horn instead of both. Hupp went left, causing the rope to go tight as she was dallying, or wrapping the rope around her saddle horn to prevent the steer from running away. Normally, in that scenario the rope will fly up in the air. However, this was not the case for Hupp. The rope stretched and snapped, hitting her directly in the eye. 

“People that were there say it sounded like a gun went off in there,” Hupp said.  

Recovery was a long process for Hupp. She had to wait about nine months before having  surgery due to the swelling, determining what exactly happened to her eye and scheduling specialists. 

The waiting process was one of the hardest parts for Hupp. As the rope had damaged her pupil, any form of light would cause her to experience migraines. 

She was forced to wear sunglasses or an eye patch a majority of the time. Her blood pressure in the eye would also increase, causing her to feel sick.  

After rescheduling four times, she finally underwent surgery in July 2019.  

Hupp’s new eye is now about 70-80% artificial. Her iris was hand-painted and made in Germany, making it the first artificial iris in South Dakota.  

Returning to Rodeo:  

Since she had qualified for the 2019 College National Finals Rodeo and was unable to compete due to her injury, Hupp was granted medical hardship by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, which allowed her to make up for her lost rodeo season.  

Although she was hesitant about going back to rodeo after her injury, Hupp was able to get  back in her saddle in August 2019, and slowly began to compete again. She had only a couple  weeks to train before the college season began.

“Here I was with my new eye, trying to kind of get a few runs in,” Hupp said. “But it ended up working out the way it should have, I guess. Now it seems like I didn’t have to wait that long, but I know during it, it seemed like forever.”  

Since her injury, Hupp has experienced changes, especially with depth  perception, and has had to become more self-aware. If she wears herself out, her eye is the first thing to feel it. 

Hupp said the goat-tying was the most difficult event to come back to; however, she was surprised how much muscle memory she had retained.  

“I was really nervous to rodeo again because I didn’t know how it would be, I didn’t know what to expect,” Hupp said. “It’s not like a torn ACL or something, where, it’s tragic and it sucks, but a lot of people have gone through it. I was kind of doing it on my own. People tried to  say they could relate, but they definitely couldn’t.”  

Hupp says her college roommates have helped her to gain the confidence to go back to rodeo.  

“They were really good about not making me feel any different, they just treated me like they always had,” Hupp said.”Eventually it just helped me mentally to realize that it’s only as different as I make it. Although, they did love standing on my right side and scaring the heck out of me.”  

Hupp’s comeback season was cut short when the 2020 College National Finals Rodeo was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hard for her to have two seasons back-to-back taken away. 

“Honestly the first year when I was hurt, I took it really tough,” Hupp said. “It just seemed like I was in this  position and had to just watch everybody else have fun, do this, go on and do that. But, at least it was a little bit easier [last] year to deal with because I had people going through it with me, as selfish and as bad as that sounds. It was so disappointing. Last year was supposed to be my comeback year, I put a lot of pressure on it and worked so hard to get there and then to just have it be taken away for something completely out of [everyone’s] hands, I never in a million years would have guessed that would happen.”  

Hupp said she plans to continue to compete in amateur rodeos after college and keep “going ‘til her next injury.”