Multi-talented Hailey Knudsen, 18, from Fredericksburg, TX, is making her mark in life as an equestrian, model, singer, dancer and actress in spite of some obstacles that many would find difficult to handle or overcome. But her faith, determination and resilience have helped her persevere and inspired her to pursue her dreams.
Hailey was raised on a Texas ranch, so her love for horses comes naturally. But, other interests have gained her attention as well, like modeling, singing and dancing. However, her main focus right now is acting. Hailey began acting when she was young…real young. She has acted in several independent films and theatrical productions (32 total) that have showcased her natural talent.
“My love of performing began when I was just a baby. My parents used to play country music songs around the house, and they noticed that even in the younger years of my life, I could bounce my legs perfectly in time with the music. That’s when my parents decided that they should enroll me in dance class. So, at two years old, I started dancing at our hometown dance studio. While performing at my very first dance recital I could not contain my excitement up on stage! I kept laughing because I was so happy to be up there. When the song was over my dance teacher had to actually take me off the stage as I just stood there bowing and soaking up the attention of the cheering crowd. That’s when I decided this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. When I was five years old I saw a flier to audition for a musical at our small town community theater. I decided to audition, and when I was cast I caught the theater bug, and I have been acting ever since!”
Growing Up In Texas
As the only child of Scott and Tracy Knudsen, imagination played an important role in Hailey’s life while growing up on the ranch. “I was an only child, so I had a very active imagination. I would often go to the barn and play games with the animals, or I would drag my guitar into the woods, climb a tree, and play and sing songs. I grew up in a small rural town in Texas where everyone knows everyone. I love living here. The small community aspect holds a dear place in my heart.”
Making Medical History
Although Hailey is focusing on her acting career now, she has paid a price while pursuing other interests, like dance. “Most people don’t know that I’ve had four knee surgeries! I had a torn meniscus, ACL tear, dislocation of the knee cap, nerve damage, and my bones were rubbing together due to my cartilage being so worn down that the bone was chipping off in my leg. It was an old ranching injury, and when I continued to dance it made my knee worse. When my kneecap would dislocate I would get a hammer and knock it back in place and keep dancing. I definitely take after my dad, who was a bull rider, about not knowing when to quit when I have an injury. My most recent procedure I had to get a partial replacement making me one of the only people my age that’s ever had this specific surgery…I like to say that I’m famous in a medical textbook somewhere as a result of it!”
Hailey is proud of her cowgirl heritage. “Ranching is in my blood, I am a sixth generation cowgirl, so my family has been ranching and rodeoing for generations. When my parents found out they were pregnant with me, my dad said, ‘We’ve got to raise this girl right — on a ranch,’ so they bought a ranch and built our house on it, and I have lived here my whole life. At one point, I had a dream to be a barrel racer when I was young, but due to injuries through dance I was not able to compete, so I mainly do ranch work on horseback, pleasure riding around the property for fun and to clear my mind. When I was trying out to be the Peach Queen, which is my hometown’s rodeo pageant, you had to enter a float into the parade for the judges to judge and score you…it was a part of the tryout process. So I entered my horse and rode him, and I wore a big long ball gown. It was an amazing moment I will never forget. I have also sung the National Anthem on horseback, and I have a few upcoming film projects that I will get to have scenes on horseback which I am thrilled about.”
On the day she turned one, Hailey’s father experienced a harrowing encounter with mother nature – so much so that his encounter, and his struggles afterwards, is the topic for a future movie. “It was a crazy out of body experience for sure. It all went down on my very first birthday. My mom and dad were going to the barn because my mom wanted to reveal the tractor she washed to surprise my dad, when out of the clear blue sky a bolt of lightning came down and struck my father in the head. The lightning went through his arm and the blanket that he was holding me in. My parents describe it as the brightest light they’ve ever seen.
“At the time, they didn’t realize what they were dealing with. They both thought that my dad was fine and treated it almost as a joke. My mom took me and drove into town to get me a birthday cake while my dad remained at home. When we returned back from the 30-minute drive into town, my dad was in an almost zombie-like state barely able to form a sentence, and he had large black circles under his eyes. After that our lives were never the same again. My dad lost all of his memories before the lightning strike resulting in him and I learning how to read and write together.
“My mom went from having to raise one child to raising two kids because my dad could barely do anything on his own. My mom was left taking care of all the ranch work and animals alone, and she was a city girl who married a country boy so this was a completely new experience for her as well. She is an inspiration to me and is one of the strongest women I know.
“Years later the effects of the lightning still follow us to this day. Bright lights and loud noises tend to bother my dad and I, and my dad has suffered heart troubles and a continued brain injury throughout his life, but with lots of hope and prayers we have turned what could have been the most negative moment of our entire lives into a positive. Rather than running and hiding from our past trauma we embraced it. We even made the brand that we put on all of our horses a K with a lightning bolt in it and renamed our ranch to be the Lightning K Ranch. Our family is closer than ever and we go around and share our story to other people that may have suffered injuries or traumatic experiences in their life to better help people overcome their challenges. The film industry is now considering making a feature film about my family’s life story!”
Never Give Up
Hailey encourages others to pursue their dreams and to never give up. “The best advice I could offer is to never give up on your dreams. I know it sounds cliche, but whenever I was young and would tell people I wanted to be an actor when I grew up, the most common response I would get was ‘Well better look for a different profession,’ but I believe with hard work, faith, and determination anything is possible. No dream is too big, so always reach for the stars!”
Cover photo courtesy Hailey Knudsen.
Bob Valleau is a regular entertainment contributor for Texas Lifestyle Magazine.