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One cowgirl’s horseback ride to Whataburger went viral. But there’s a lot more to her story.


The first time Kaila Ducharme’s grandfather took her to a rodeo, she knew she was born to ride.

That was at age 4.

“I told him I never wanted to come back unless I was competing,” Ducharme says.

When she was 5, she did just that – leading her horse through a barrel-racing competition.

Now 18, Ducharme loves competing in a variety of rodeo competitions, including barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping and goat tying.

Last summer, Ducharme and two friends went for a ride on their horses. Two hours later, they ponied up at a Whataburger drive-thru for some impromptu milkshakes, and were caught in a photo that went viral on social media.

For Ducharme, it was just another day with her friends and her horses. But it’s a day that almost didn’t happen.

Back in the saddle

On September 3, 2015, Ducharme was training a young horse when it became spooked and flipped over backwards on top of her.

“She basically folded me in half like a pretzel. I knew immediately something was terribly wrong when I couldn’t move. Everything was numb,” she recalls.

Her injuries were so severe that she was flown via Life Flight to Memorial Hermann, Houston’s trauma hospital.

“I broke my left femur, left hip and ninth rib. I also lacerated my liver, gallbladder and damaged my colon,” she says. “I spent three months in a wheelchair.”

But Ducharme was determined to compete again.

Four months after the accident, she saddled up and went for a ride on horseback. And in March 2016, six months after the accident, she competed in a rodeo competition, placing 6th out of 100 riders.

“I was a little disappointed I didn’t place higher, but proud because it was a difficult road to get there,” Ducharme says.

And looking forward

Meeting the medical team that helped save her life inspired Ducharme. While she had been considering veterinary school, she is now studying to become a Life Flight nurse.

And, of course, she’s still riding.

After three surgeries and still battling post-traumatic stress, Ducharme rode the horse from the accident in December 2016.

Horses, she says, will always be in her life.

And Whataburger will forever be a part of that journey: from sponsoring rodeo events like the Texas High School Rodeo Association state finals, where Ducharme attempted to qualify for a spot at nationals back in June or going all the way back to those rodeos with her grandfather when she was a little girl.

“We would often stop at Whataburger for dinner before heading home. I'll never forget: the 3-piece chicken strips with gravy was always my meal of choice,” Ducharme laughs. “When I think of those post-rodeo Whataburger trips with my grandpa, it makes me nostalgic.”


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Allison LaSalle Photography