“Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a cowgirl or cowboy lifestyle, and we are lucky to have it.”
– JUSTINE CORNELSEN
Onanole’s Justine Cornelsen enjoys being a member of the Manitoba High School Rodeo Association (MHSRA) as it gives her the opportunity to grow as a cowgirl, compete in unique events and be close to a special group of comrades.
And it shows as she sat atop the leader board in the senior high point standings, heading into the second half of her third season. The daughter of Stephen and Jan chalked up 202 points at seven rodeos last fall and held down a very slim margin over Jennifer Pugh of Boissevain, who capped off the run from August to October with 201.5 points.
“Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a cowgirl or cowboy lifestyle, and we are lucky to have it,” said Cornelsen, who shares the trail with her younger brother Austin. “Having a bond with a horse is a very special thing and not everyone gets the chance to do it. For those who do, cherish the opportunity that has been given.”
For Cornelsen the quest to become an all-around cowgirl in multiple disciplines began as a young child. It came honestly as her dad grew up on a community pasture in Saskatchewan and has been involved with horses his whole life. Today, working for Parks Canada and the family living at the South Lake Warden Station on Riding Mountain National Park property, he is in charge of about 20 park horses, and shares duties of tending to 10 family-owned ones.
Honing her riding skills, horsemanship has become a very big aspect of Cornelsen’s life, as she is also involved in Equine 4-H. Competing in regional and provincial shows the Grade 11 student at Erickson Collegiate Institute has achieved success with her registered American quarter-horse – Scooter Jackie Bee better known as Ice – including provincial championship honours as a member of the Southwest 4-H team three years ago. Currently she is working on her Young Horse Development Project for 4-H.
Backed by the support of her parents, she also competes in English and western classes at horse shows all across Manitoba.
JOINED MHSRA IN 2006
Before joining the MHSRA in the fall of 2006, rodeo was already making an impact on her life as a competitor, spectator and volunteer at the Onanole high school rodeo. Encouragement to join the MHSRA came from neighbours and friends.
“While Austin and I have had so many people aid in our young rodeo careers, our parents are our biggest influences because they are always teaching new skills, helping with old ones and encouraging us every step of the way,” said Cornelsen. “I’m proud to say they not only stand behind us but also the association. Mom is in charge of flags paraded by students as part of grand entry and Dad is the tie-down roping adult director.”
In and out of the arena, Cornelsen has found the high school rodeo movement to be one great experience. Growth as a member has not only been from an event standpoint – rising from three to five – including against the guys in team roping, but also as a director and the treasurer on the student executive.
And although she has a passion for all five events, one edges out the others as a favourite.
“I’ve always been a barrel-racing fan ever since I was little but I would have to say my top MHSRA event would be goat tying. It was a totally new and challenging event when I first started, but through instruction and lots of practice, it’s become a huge rush to get off my horse on the fly and make a successful run.”
Able to compete in various challenging events is just one positive of being involved in the MHSRA and its parent affiliation, the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA). Another is earning a position on the NHSRA Wrangler All-Star rodeo team based on leadership qualities, academic eligibility and athletic achievement. Receiving official competition apparel Cornelsen will be among the Manitoba students to showcase Wrangler’s involvement in the sport of rodeo as she rides for awards, scholarships and the right to attend the Nationals, upon closing out the 2008-09 season on provincial soil from April to June.
– Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba