Barrel racing may look less harrowing than some other rodeo events, but it certainly is not for the fainthearted. The horsemanship skills and competitive drive in this fast and furious event make it a crowd favourite.
And a favourite for a number of Manitoba High School Rodeo Association members including Alex Park of Hamiota.
Horsemanship and the cowgirl lifestyle come honestly for Park, who is within her third and final year as a competitor in the junior high division. A passion for horses, riding and competition was put forth by her mom, who at one time did a lot of western pleasure riding herself and today, still enjoys saddling up a four-legged companion and hitting the trail.
“With my mom getting me into loving horses, I used to do western pleasure – a slow collected class, but soon found I was meant for a little more adventure, a little more speed,” said Park, a Grade 8 student. “Honing my riding skills as a member of the Decker Country Riders 4-H Club for two years, I joined the MHSRA in 2007.”
It was here where a passion for life in the fast lane was spurred on, as Park concentrated solely on the events known as barrel racing and pole bending, only adding breakaway roping at the start of the present season last August.
Last year, turning and burning aboard her horse, Strider, a 10-year-old sorrel quarter-horse, she had a successful year claiming the Junior Finals barrel-racing championship. She also placed third from a yearend standpoint in both barrels, and poles.
As was the case in 2009, the Junior High Finals will once again be held in conjunction with the Onanole high school rodeo at the end of May. It’s here where a strong group of young, talented cowgirls and cowboys will lay it on the line for championship supremacy at both ends of the arena.
Backed by the philosophy of “go hard or go home,” Park chalked up 52 points to sit fifth in barrel racing out of 19 junior cowgirls in the first half of the 2009-10 season. Leading the pack was Heidi Smith of Oak Lake with 65 points.
While countless miles need to be covered to compete, Park, an all-star team member and captain of the Manitoba junior girls squad has no qualms or complaints, as it’s a lifestyle she fancies. “The MHSRA is my favourite thing to do – I love the socializing aspect and the events.”
Along with competing, the Hamiota Collegiate Institute student upholds the values of the MHSRA by giving back to the association as a director of pole bending at the high school level.
The daughter of Kim and Brian Park shares a common ground with other Hamiota students including Kenzie Robinson, who is a rookie within the junior ranks. Introduced in the province in 2004, the junior division of the National High School Rodeo Association is designed to reach junior high students during important transitional times in their lives, and to offer them the opportunity to be involved with the positive, family-oriented sport of rodeo.
At the high school level, Shelby Medd, Sara Hunter and Jenna Rae Kent, presently represent the Hamiota Collegiate, although a number of graduates of the school are also among alumni of the MHSRA, which was initiated in Manitoba 15 years ago.
This fall, among the new members to climb aboard from across the province will be Park’s brother Riley. Upon joining the junior ranks he will have the option of competing in a number of boy’s events including goat tying, chute dogging, and steer riding.
Having had the honour of competing in front of hometown crowds from an MHSRA aspect, and as a member of the Manitoba Barrel Racing Association, Park finds it can bring forth apprehension but it’s also a thrill.
“It’s great having the finals here in Hamiota. It does play on the nerves a little, but it just makes you want to do your best and show everyone what you can do,” said Park, who is also involved in the school sports of volleyball and basketball.
Students and families of the MHSRA will once again converge on the southwestern community twice this year. The first go was in conjunction with the popular Triple H Rodeo weekend held in April, and the second will be in June, when Hamiota will host the provincial finals weekend over the dates of June 11 to 13. Excitement for Manitoba students won’t stop there though, as the National Junior High Finals Rodeo begins in New Mexico in the latter part of June, the Wyoming city of Gillette is hosting the National High School Finals Rodeo this year in July, and the Canadian High School Rodeo Finals will be celebrated in Virden, August 5 to 7.
Determined to put the effort into the sport of rodeo to reach personal goals, Park draws inspiration from a world champion and her favourite rodeo competitor, Charmayne James. For people who don’t follow the sport, James is the greatest barrel racer of all time. She has won 11 professional barrel-racing world championships.
However, the 13-year-old who rates barrel racing as her No. 1 event, is also inspired by others.
“The encouragement I get from my mom is insurmountable. She helps me so much by getting horses ready, driving endless hours to rodeos and supporting me, as a competitor, in every way.”
Being presented the opportunity to make some really great lifetime friends, Park is also very thankful for the support shown to her by grandparents, Larry and Eileen Dnistranski of Crandall.
Knowing full well that “practice makes perfect,” she will continue to do just that, in conquering new quests as a high school competitor and promoting the sport of rodeo.
– Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba