She Knows the Ropes

MANDIE RAU-DUNHAM IS A REAL-LIFE COWGIRL; fourth generation, in fact. She also has a career she adores, a family she loves even more, eight horses and a very big pickup truck and horse trailer.

According to Mandie, she was a cowgirl from the moment she was born. “I was riding horses when I was in my mom’s belly,” she says with a smile. Her mother Connie was an accomplished barrel racer who often competed in the Tucson Rodeo. “These days mom enjoys the cowgirl life by taking folks on pack trips on her mules.”

Life as a rodeo kid guaranteed Mandie had a full schedule, a lot of horse-related chores and many great friends. She went “pro” in 1986 at the age of five and regularly rodeoed as a member of the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association.

Growing up in her rodeo family also offered some convenient perks. When Mandie was a youngster she helped her grandparents, Curley and Joyce Clark, produce rodeos for the Law Enforcement Rodeo Association (LERA). She also became a regular at Clark’s Arena, her grandparents’ popular roping venue in Marana. She fit right in and participated in area rodeos, and also helped her grandparents at LERA events with scoring and secretarial duties.

When Mandie attended Marana High School, she was an active member of high school rodeo her freshman year. Then she took a break from that activity and joined the volleyball, basketball and softball teams. Much like other dedicated athletes, she “loved the diversity” of experiencing other sports. She remained a member of all three teams until she graduated in 1997. Next stop was Yavapai College and Pima Community College, where rodeo became her primary sport again.

Two years later, Mandie pivoted to a new goal: becoming the Tucson Rodeo Queen. Earning this title had everything to do with horsemanship and the ability to communicate the history and importance of the Tucson Rodeo. Mandie nailed the horsemanship competition and was first in impromptu speech and modeling. The judges easily declared her the 1999 Tucson Rodeo Queen, and she proudly represented La Fiesta de los Vaqueros at other Arizona rodeos, as well as various events and schools.

Her next big move was in 2002 when she enrolled at the University of Arizona, where she competed as a member of the UA rodeo team. Academics, however, were her priority, and she earned a degree in Equine Science and soon after was offered a position at the UA Campus Agricultural Center on Campbell Avenue. “An important part of my duties there had to do with keeping livestock safe and secure,” she explains. Recently she was reassigned to the UA main campus, where she now works as a veterinary technician/research specialist.

Mandie Rau-Dunham leads the flag team at the Tucson Rodeo. Photo by Jennifer Vimmerstedt.
Mandie Rau-Dunham leads the flag team at the Tucson Rodeo. Photo by Jennifer Vimmerstedt.

Home for the Dunham family is a five-acre ranch in Avra Valley. Husband Chip and 11-year-old daughter Jacie share the chores and embrace the day-to-day realities. “Horses are a lifestyle for sure,” says Mandie with a grin. The property also accommodates the family’s eight horses, four chickens, three dogs and occasional four-legged guests. During the school year, Mandie and her family welcome horses and livestock owned by the University of Arizona’s rodeo team members. “She opens up her home to let us practice with her any time we need to,” says Sarah Nelson, a member of the UA rodeo team. Mandie is the team’s assistant adviser and chief cheerleader.

Like generations of cowgirls that came before her, Mandie’s daughter Jacie is blossoming as a barrel racer and roper. She competes in events sponsored by a local barrel-racing club and, of course, mom is her idol and mentor. Mandie also is the club’s director and helps coach other young members, as well. “I’m really involved in keeping kids active,” she adds.

High on the list of her achievements are her continued contributions to the Tucson Rodeo. She is a genuine star at the annual event, especially with the young girls in the stands who love horses and dream of being just like her.

Tucson Rodeo’s general manager Gary Williams sums up Mandie’s contributions to the annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros best. “For more than 20 years Mandie has played an integral role in creating the high level of production value we strive for at the Tucson Rodeo. From our opening ceremonies, through sponsor flag presentations, to our winner’s circle runs, to our closing ceremonies led by Mandie and her daughter Jacie, we can always count on her for a big smile to the crowd and an inner toughness to do her job regardless of the circumstances. Mandie’s a cowboy — that’s the highest compliment I can give anyone.” — Joan Liess

The 94th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson Rodeo is Feb. 16-24. Visit for information.

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