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Wyoming High School Rodeo: Travel, contacts motivation for competitors

Written by Christy Hemken
    According to many people involved with high school rodeo, both students and adults, it’s the travel, the contacts and the experience that draw their participation.
    “My favorite thing about high school rodeo is meeting all the people. I know a kid from just about every town in Wyoming, and I like getting to know them and families from across the state,” says Wyoming High School Rodeo Association (WHSRA) President Cinnamon Smith, who lives on her family’s ranch north of Gillette.
    Smith, a junior, says she’s been involved in rodeo throughout her high school years, as well as years prior when she followed her older brother to rodeos. Of being president, she says, “I always wanted to do the queening aspect of high school rodeo, but then it was suggested I run for president – a leadership role in which I could be the ‘real Cinnamon.’”
    Smith’s events are girls’ cutting, pole bending and breakaway roping. She hopes to qualify for nationals in girls’ cutting, in which she’s ranked third going into the state finals June 24-28 in Douglas. She’ll also compete in breakaway roping in Douglas.
    As president, Smith and the other student officers attend board meetings throughout the year, help with state finals, choose and design prizes, coordinate grand entries at the smaller rodeos and have put together a calendar project as a fundraiser.
    “I like to travel and see the state, and competing is also a pretty big part,” says Smith of why she’s drawn to high school rodeo.
    Of going down the road to compete in rodeos, National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) National Director Dixie Huxtable, of Douglas, says fuel prices and the economy have been a main concern of the WHSRA committee.
    “Our main topics mostly have to do with cost and the economy, and trying to put on quality rodeos that give the kids the opportunity to practice but are financially available to every kid,” she says.
    As a part of that she says the committee has tried to move rodeos closer together, or combine rodeos for a two-day event and have later start times to avoid hotel costs.
    She says the WHSRA is up to 300 members, with about 200 competing in each rodeo.
    In addition to scheduling, WHSRA Chairman Glenn Barlow of Gillette says the committee has also been working on putting together a scholarship program. There goal is for every graduating senior to receive a scholarship if they apply for college. “We like to see the kids get some return to continue their education,” he says of the effort.
    “We’ve talked about changing the format of the rodeos to help with the economy, but every time we put out a survey the membership likes what we’re doing,” says Huxtable. “Currently we have two rodeos each weekend, and the kids don’t want to change the format we have.”
    “We try to make it a learning experience, and I hope they learn and grow into young adulthood through learning responsibility with deadlines and standards they have to meet,” says Huxtable of high school rodeo, adding she enjoys the camaraderie and atmosphere of kids working with friends and a family. “We go to rodeos and see kids helping each other, sharing horses, ropes and hazing for each other.”
    “I hope they’re learning about what to do in life – how to handle money and how to travel, with the expenses involved,” says Barlow, who has kids who compete, and who competed himself when he was in high school. “This helps them not only in rodeo, but elsewhere in life, and I hope they learn how to go out in the world and get along.”
    Huxtable says she hopes the kids come away realizing rodeo isn’t just a sport, but a way of life to embrace. “And it’s a stepping stone for those who do want to go on and continue rodeoing,” she adds, noting that she gets to see a lot of “her kids” compete at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper. She estimates 30 to 40 percent of high school contestants compete at the college level.  
    “I’m proud of our kids and our organization,” says Huxtable of WHSRA. “We try to keep it on even keel and give everyone a fair opportunity to compete. We do the best we can for the kids.”
    Although her term as Wyoming President is drawing to an end, Smith is preparing a campaign for National President for the mid-July National High School Finals Rodeo in Farmington, N.M.
    “Hopefully I will achieve that goal and represent the entire nation,” she says of the campaign. In Farmington she says she hopes to meet as many kids as she can from across the country.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..