By Leigh Savage
Photos Courtesy INSP
Hannah Castellitto, a 27-year-old rodeo competitor and horse trainer from Saluda, said it all started with a friendly bet. Her 14-year-old brother wagered that she wouldn’t try out for Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, a popular show on the channel INSP.
With that challenge on the table, she had to send an application, “but it was totally as a joke,” she says.
Then she got the call, and the next thing she knew, she was in Carroll, Texas, sweating profusely in 90-plus degree heat, wearing long sleeves and a cowboy hat, sleeping in a tent and getting up at the crack of dawn to compete in grueling challenges.
Though she was eliminated in the third episode on March 10, with host Trace Adkins delivering the fateful words, “You’re done here,” Castellitto said in her post-show interview that the experience was definitely worth it. She “made friends, learned a lot about myself and stepped out of my comfort zone a lot.”
Now in its second season, Ultimate Cowboy Showdown pits 14 cowboys - men and women - from around the country against each other as they undergo physical and mental challenges.
The winner walks away with a prize package that includes a herd of cattle, a portable corral, a cattle chute and the Ultimate Cowboy Showdown belt buckle. The show premiered in February, and a winner is expected to be crowned in late April.
Though Castellitto hoped to be there in the finale, she is now rooting for close friend Katey Jo Gordon.
A cowboy from birth
Castellitto grew up around horses and cattle: her mom competed in rodeos, and her father, a former mounted police officer in Ft. Myers, Florida, eventually bought his own herd of cattle.
She even has a rodeo ribbon from the year she was born, when her dad “strapped me on his stud horse” for a competition. “It’s just one of those things my whole family did,” she says.
They later moved to Saluda, South Carolina, where her parents own Legacy Ranch and Legacy Fence Company. Hannah runs Hannah Castellitto Horse Training and Sales LLC.
She started selling and training horses at the age of 18, and business grew rapidly. She says the pandemic has only spurred interest in horses. “I have made more money,” she says. “Everyone is at home, getting a check in the mail and bored.”
At the start of 2020, she told her parents she was creating a five-year plan that included qualifying for the World Championships in barrel racing, building a house, building a barn and producing “the best horses on the East Coast.”
Within a year, she had done all four, including qualifying for Worlds (which she has done several years in a row) and selling horses in the $65,000-$70,000 range.
A few weeks ago, she bought a stud horse whose father has offspring that have won nearly $14 million, mainly in cutting competitions, so her expectations for the future are high.
And on top of all that, she filmed her first reality competition show. Her family and friends have been hosting watch parties on the family ranch on a large projector near a roaring fire.
Despite the intense heat and lack of air conditioning during filming, Castellito says the experience was positive.
“It was fun, but not super realistic,” she said. “It wasn’t the stuff we would normally do, and I wish there was more horsemanship stuff. But I love talking to people, meeting new people.”
Since her time on the show wrapped last summer, she has continued barrel racing, selling horses, traveling and has taken up boxing.
Always goal-oriented, she was motivated by her time on the show, and hopes her experiences motivated others as well. She has recently taken on a couple of young girls who train under her and she hopes she can be a positive influence in their lives.
“If you’re good at something, don’t quit,” she said in her post-show interview. “You can be in a man’s world, and you can be just as tough. That’s been my motto.”
She also hopes people who are passionate about something, be it barrel racing or any other pursuit, see her and her fellow contestants and recognize the power of pursuing every opportunity to do what they love.
“I never thought I would be waking up and doing what I love every single day, so if I can help inspire one person, I would do it again,” she says.