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Roping, Riding, Retweeting: Rodeo Kids



Timeless Silhouettes Encircle The Rodeo Arena: slim men atop fences, boot heels hooked on the rail below. Straight-backed cowgirls, gliding astride mounts with braided manes. Lassos flying up and out in the fading light as ropers work on their release.

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At the 2014 International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, competitors adhere to tradition. Events begin with a salute to the U.S. Constitution and riders presenting the American flag during the performance of the national anthem. Western dress is required in the competition area. Back numbers must be worn at all times.

But a closer look reveals a new scene.

Beneath cowboy hats, heads often tilt down as if in prayer. Shadowed riders reach again and again for their pockets, digging out devices. Gleaming rectangles are cradled in rein-holding hands. Friends pull up on horses, gathering around the glowing screens like a high-tech campfire.

They are checking their messages. Sending texts. Watching video. Riding while talking on the phone. Just like any other teenagers. Over the loudspeakers, the announcers’ patter dwells on branding that is more corporate than cattle.

Three miles outside the rodeo parking lot – east on West Independence Street, then south on North Center – is the grave of Brewster Higley, who penned the lyrics to “Home on the Range.” Beyond the glare of the arena lights, his vision of a laconic American cowboy riding alone with his thoughts seems as nostalgic and far away as a home where the buffalo roam.

 

Rodeo Riches Await

For the past 22 years, hundreds of high school rodeo competitors descend on Shawnee’s Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center to compete in 10 events each July: cowgirl barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping and goat tying; co-ed team roping; and cowboy calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding and bareback riding.

The prizes offered at the International Finals Youth Rodeo are beyond the traditional championship saddles and buckles. Billed as the world’s richest youth rodeo, total prize money at last year’s IFYR topped $225,000.

Competitors invest in horses, training, gear, RVs and stock trailers, and are responsible for entry fees ($100 per competitor, per event), stall rentals ($110 each) and camping ($200 per spot). The payoff can be huge: in addition to the prize money, teens may attract rodeo sponsors to help underwrite expenses, or catch the eye of coaches from one of the 100 collegiate rodeo teams.

Unlike college sports operating under NCAA or NAIA guidelines, rodeo riders do not have to maintain their amateur status. Prize money has been encouraged since rodeo became a collegiate sport 65 years ago, in 1949, and many compete simultaneously on the college and pro circuits.

In addition to enriching the winners, the IFYR is an economic boon for Pottawatomie County, which credits the event with bringing in $5.4 million each year.

Of Jaxon and Mackie, Winter and Sage

The most popular names at the 2014 IFYR, which featured 879 competitors from 26 states: Colt and its variations for boys and Cheyenne for girls. Also featured were cowboy names worthy of a Western novel, such as Ryder Gann, Clint Craig, Skee Burkes, Baize Bowers, Rusty Rhodes, Pace Blanchard, Rowdy McFall, Sonny Scott, Clay Boaz, Rocky Dill, Twister Vinson and Blue Wilcox. Cowgirl names have become more adventuresome, and can embody the same nonchalant ruggedness. A sampler of this year’s rodeo cowgirls:

Mackie Ford - Clinton, OK // Jordan Outlaw - Bonha, TX
Winter Williams - Copan, OK // Paxton Nix - McAlester, OK
Skylar Eagles - Monte Vista, CO // Timber Lyon - Perrin, TX
Cedar Jandreau - Kennebec, SD // Ashton Finch - Mendenhall, MS
Carson Denning - Four Oaks, NC // Raleigh Whitfield - Sulphur, LA
Jaxon Shultz - Abilene, TX // Hagen Brunson - Guymon, OK
Tyler Larson - Richardson, TX // Tallen Halliday - Lipan, NC
Fallon Ratliff - Live, FL // Scout Smith - Smithville, OK
Reece Buckmaster - Weatherford, OK // Hunter Haley - Portales, NM
Quincy Segelke - Snyder, CO // Brogan Macy - Post, TX
Shelby Weaver - Sand Springs, OK // Sage Vincent - Boise City, OK
Laramie Girty - Porum, OK // Tillar Murray - Fort Worth, TX
Rickie Engesser - Spearfish, SD // Brayden Wood - Oklahoma City, OK
Campbell Grover - Purvis, MS // Bet Langley - Houston, MS
Sloan Anderson - Whitehorse, SD // Kadan Gravitt - Soper, OK

 

Siblings often join forces for the calf-roping competition, the rodeo’s only co-ed event. This year’s most alliterative team names:

Cutler & Casey Barnes - Maybell, CO // Sierra & Sterling White - Happy, TX
Dalton & Dawson Turner - Sidney, AR // Tanner & Tyler Jarrett - Ada, OK
Jake & Judson South - Albuquerque, NM // Chantz & Clint Webster - Lipan, TX
Jarrett & Justin Briggs - Madison, FL // Trevor & Trey Nowlin - Casa Grande, AZ
Carlee Sue & Cassie Kay McGuinn - Denton, TX // Ean & Ethan Price - Leedey, OK

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Editor’s Note: This is the 20th installment in a continuing series as author and photographer M.J. Alexander chronicles her travels across the state of Oklahoma.

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February 2019

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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
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Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
NW 11th and Broadway
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Through March 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary is partnering with Madison Square Park Conservancy to bring Erwin Redl’s installation Whiteout to Campbell Art Park. Whiteout is comprised of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Campbell Art Park
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Cost: $12.50

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Contact Name: Jenni
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Where:
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Cost: $12.50

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