Quinton Ellis hangs on during the 9-12 year old steer riding competition Thursday at the High Plains Junior Rodeo. (CNJ staff photo: Andrew Chavez)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Kids like Dana Lewis and Jared Eshleman, both of Clovis, are getting to the age where they can now appreciate rodeos that take place near their homes.
But don’t get them wrong, however. As the High Plains Junior Rodeo Association’s finals continued on Thursday, both have just as much enthusiasm for the sport as they ever did.
“It’s a rush. I still enjoy doing it,” said Lewis, 20, who is one of the older participants in this year’s finals.
The oldest age category for the HPJRA finals is the 16-19 group. Those who turned 20 after the start of the new year, like Lewis, are eligible to compete one more time.
An elementary education major at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, Lewis lives just west of Clovis. She’s been a regular participant in the High Plains circuit since she was seven.
Over time, she’s has gone from listening to adults talk about their rodeo days to someone who is about to go into her own storytelling years.
“I know a lot of people from around here that have been part of rodeo their whole lives. If you’ve ever been in rodeo, you don’t leave it thinking, ‘I regret being in rodeo,’” Lewis said shortly after posting a time of 17.69 in barrel racing on Thursday.
“I hope I can sit around and talk about my old rodeo days like that,” she added.
On the other hand, Eshleman is likely to continue a little longer. A native of Melrose, the 19-year-old now lives in Clovis and also goes to ENMU — where he’s part of the school’s rodeo team.
“I do it for the rush, I guess. I love it,” Eshleman said.
While three of his teammates participated in the college national finals, Eshleman stayed in the area over the summer to compete in amateur rodeos as well as the HPJRA events leading up to the finals.
Having been to plenty of competitions far from home, Eshleman knows the hardship of living on the road — even at his still-young age. Still, even with that in mind, he’s happy to have the home advantage at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena.
“You can go home tonight, sleep in your own bed, keep the horses at your own house,” said Eshleman, who was part of the calf roping competition on Thursday morning. “It does kind of wear on you, living in a trailer, eating at McDonald’s all the time. You get a little homesick.”