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Instead of cleats and helmets, a number of young athletes wear Western boots and hats when they compete as members of the Elizabeth High School rodeo team.
The team is small and includes Elizabeth-area residents as well as those from other parts of Elbert County. There are also Douglas County residents on the team, and team members come from both high school and junior high grades.
Julie Atkinson, who competed in high school and professional rodeo, is a member of the adult board of directors for the Elizabeth High School rodeo team.
“Our team is small, with about 30 kids and about half-dozen who regularly compete in high school rodeos. We really want our team to grow and, to do that, we need more kids and parents to join us,” she said. “Competing in high school rodeo is a demanding sport for the student and the parents. For the student there is the time demand for school work, rodeo event practice, training the horse and competition in youth rodeos. Three organizations in Colorado put on rodeos, so there are events almost every weekend.”
About 11 Colorado High School Rodeo Association events are held each year, some in the spring and some in the fall. In addition, there are numerous Colorado Junior Rodeo Association and Little Britches Rodeo Association events held in the spring and fall. Young rodeo riders can participate in events put on by all three organizations.
Atkinson said being involved in youth rodeo involves parents or guardians as well as the young competitors. She said all events except bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding require a horse, so that means packing up and towing a horse trailer to the rodeo site, meaning at least one adult usually has to go along with the competitor.
“The Elizabeth High School rodeo team was one of the largest in the state a few years ago,” she said. “Now we are small and we just hope we can get more parents and students involved in our sport and the Elizabeth High School rodeo team.”
Members of the Elizabeth team competed in the Golden High School Rodeo, held April 14 and 15 at Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
Traci Swisher stood by the edge of the arena to watch her daughter, Taylor, ride in the high school barrel racing event.
“Our team is small and we really hope more cowboys and cowgirls will join us,” she said. “I raced barrels, my daughter thought it looked like fun. She said she thought she would like to try it and recently she started competing.”
Elizabeth High School freshman Taylor Swisher competed in the barrel racing high school division at the Golden rodeo.
“I love barrel racing and I grew up around it,” she said. “My mother is a professional barrel racer and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
She said she is using her mother's horse, Prince, and their best time so far is 16.2 seconds.
“You and the horse work have to work as a team,” she said. “Timing and the teamwork between you and your horse is essential to help you make faster times by making tighter turns around the barrels.”
Swisher said school activities keep her pretty busy, but she tries to ride at least three or four times a week. She said she likes a lot of sports including track, swimming and soccer, but barrel racing and rodeo are her favorite sport. She said she used to play soccer but now rodeo is her only sport.
Kallie Russell competes in the junior high school barrel racing events. She said she has been training her horse, Gus, to compete in barrel racing for about five months.
“My barrel racing horse was a mare named Candy, but she got arthritis so I began training Gus,” the Elizabeth athlete said. “Gus is still a little green but we are doing better.”
She said her friends got her into rodeo.
“I think rodeo is an amazing sport,” the junior high school student said. “I grew up around rodeo and barrel racing. I was awestruck by all that went into making a successful, fast run in barrel racing. I decided to try it and I love it.”
The barrel racing competition is held in an arena. The standard arena is 200 feet long and 130 feet wide.
Three barrels are placed around the arena in a triangle shape. The competitors race their horses out of the gate and circle all three barrels as quickly as possible. The time of the run is how long it takes horse and rider to leave the starting gate, circle around the barrels and race back across the starting gate. Knocking over a barrel adds 10 seconds to the time of the run.
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