What this Latter-day Saint rodeo barrel racer learned from the ‘strong’ women in her family

Wenda Johnson is a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, nurse practitioner, wife and mother of two daughters

In Wenda Johnson’s experience, most people learning to ride or train with horses err on the side of caution and “keeping it under control.”

Her mother was the opposite.

“She taught us how to be safe, how to handle horses at any speed,” Johnson said. “She taught us: ‘Yes, you can do it. This is how you handle a horse going fast. The faster. the better.’ That’s where we gained our skill and confidence to go fast.”

Her mother’s can-do coaching not only helped Johnson develop the skills and ability to compete as one of Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s top barrel racers, but also how to have a well-balanced, happy life.

Johnson, 41, is a devoted wife and mother of two daughters, a part-time nurse practitioner, and she was recently released as the Relief Society president when her husband was called as the president of their Latter-day Saint branch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Latter-day Saint Wenda Johnson takes a photo with her sisters and mother
Latter-day Saint Wenda Johnson (white shirt, brown cowboy hat), takes a photo with her sisters, niece and mother, Janiece Wilson (seated). | Provided by Wenda Johnson

In an interview with the Church News, Johnson paid tribute to her mother, Janiece Wilson, and other exemplary women in her life in timing with Mother’s Day.

“I come from strong, very driven, hardworking women. ... My mom was a huge advocate of young women being confident and self-assured in knowing who they are, what they know and which direction they are going,” Johnson said. “I am grateful.”

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‘Mom was a great coach’

Janiece Wilson, Johnson’s mother, was the only one of 12 children who loved horses. Nobody in the family had horses then, but Wilson was determined and learned all she could about riding horses. She eventually competed and won many rodeo competitions, and was crowned Miss Rodeo Arizona in 1966.

Victor and Janiece Wilson introduced their daughter and her siblings to riding horses at a young age as they grew up in Mesa, Arizona.

“It was a part of life,” Johnson said. “My mom was a great coach in all aspects, from horses to sports and everything else.”

Johnson competed in barrel racing and other rodeo events in Arizona until she got married, then took a 10-year break while she finished school and began raising her children.

Since returning to the saddle, Johnson has competed in many high-level associations and events around the country, most notably as a three-time qualifier of the National Finals Rodeo, according to

Johnson is proud of the accomplishment but doesn’t place as much emphasis on the accolades. Horses are her true passion, but she knows her mother lives for the rodeo.

“It gives her a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction. When I made the national finals the first year, she was beyond ecstatic,” Johnson said. “She truly loves rodeo. She probably gave up pursuing rodeo and competitions so she could raise a family.”


Johnson’s grandmother and her twin were nurses. They both graduated from nursing school at BYU during the last part of the Depression.

Johnson’s mother started nursing school but went in a different direction.

Their examples influenced Johnson to look into nursing, and she is glad she did.

“Once I started I was like, ‘Wow, this is where I’m supposed to be,’” Johnson said. “Nursing was a great fit for me. I do great in the nursing field because I was trained by the best — my mom — who was confident in everything she did.”

Johnson later qualified to become a nurse practitioner and works part time in a local hospital emergency room.

Finding joy

Johnson’s family has long had strong roots in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The gospel has provided her with strength, guidance and balance throughout her life, as a wife and working mother and in Church callings.

Tyson Johnson, Wenda Johnson, with their daughters Tayla and Jenica.
Tyson Johnson, Wenda Johnson, with their daughters Tayla and Jenica. | Charles E. Brooks

“It has helped me tremendously in the path that I’ve taken. I’ve been blessed and protected and had stability because of the gospel,” she said. “I attribute that in part to my family and the strength of their examples.”

She draws inspiration from the following quote by President Russell M. Nelson, given in his October 2016 general conference talk, “Joy and Spiritual Survival” — “Joy is powerful, and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives.”

“Each step and stage of life is beautiful and purposeful, and every individual has the opportunity to utilize the gifts and talents God blesses them with,” Johnson said. “I am confident in saying that I am a daughter of God.”

Johnson hopes to pass along these and other important lessons of life and faith to her daughters — Tayla, 14, and Jenica, 12.

“The biggest goal is to make sure they are happy and progressing, that they are going to be productive adults who can bring something to this world,” she said.

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