Come Sunday, Anistyn Abel, Avery Henard, Kyon Hatley and Hayden Wheeler expect to be roping their hearts out, trying to win championships at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Perry, Georgia.
Getting there takes skill and practice. It also takes a lot of money, which is why a goat roping fundraiser was held on June 8 at Corral Arena in Hobbs, with the hopes of covering expenses for the trip. Grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers were eligible to participate, as well as children of various ages, as long as they had the money to enter. Knowing how to rope didn’t hurt, either.
Abel was unable to attend because she was out of town on vacation with her family. But 14-year-old Henard, 13-year-old Hatley, and 11-year-old Wheeler were there, and the community’s generosity was not lost on any of them.
“I think it’s really good for the kids, because it’s very expensive to go there,” said Henard, who will be a Tatum High School freshman as of August.
“It’s cool that people would do this for us,” said Hatley, who home-schools with Tatum.
“I appreciate the support,” said Wheeler, who will begin sixth grade in the Tatum school system this August.
The competition is getting close, and the anticipation is growing.
“I’m excited,” Wheeler said, “and a little nervous.”
“Very, very excited,” Hatley said. “I’m getting to hang out in Georgia for a while with my friends.”
“I’m very excited,” Henard said, “just to hang out with my friends and compete.”
Henard said she began serious roping when she was eight years old.
“My parents roped,” she said, “and I always did little rodeos. But when I was eight, I decided I didn’t like barrels and bulls anymore. It didn’t work for me.”
Wheeler thinks he was about three or four years old when he started roping, and was six or seven when he started to think he was getting pretty good at it. Wheeler says he likes roping competitions because they allow him more time to be around “friends, family.”
Hatley says he was five years old when he started roping, and progressed because of “my dad’s help growing up.”
Hatley says he was 10 or 11 years old when he started to get pretty good. “I got a better horse,” he recalled.
The NJHFR is being held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. All local competitors are confident that they can do well, bring home some kind of reward for their efforts.
And they each have advice for aspiring ropers even younger than them, words of wisdom for those who may follow in their bootsteps.
“Go for it,” Hatley said.
“Practice hard,” Wheeler said. “Exercise your horses, keep your mind sharp.”
“I would say just stay calm and be consistent,” Henard said. “Don’t focus on the year-end stuff, focus on one calf at a time.”