The rodeo life

Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo Contestants Caleb Christian, left, and Hayden Moore, talk as they watch their peers compete perched on a fence near the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena. The row of seven friends come from as near as Farwell and as far as Lovington.

By Jenna DeWitt: Freedom New Mexico

Participants in this week’s High Plains Junior Rodeo Association Finals are not only competing in their sport, many are training for their future careers.

Most live on farms or ranches where they use their rodeo skills to help with the family business.

Rodeos still hold great fun for the children and teenagers involved however.

Addi Harris, 7, traveled from Canyon, Texas, to participate in the HPJRA Finals at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena. She has been competing for four years. Her two older brothers compete in roping events, but she does barrel racing and pole bending.

Like many children and teenagers that compete, she said she races because it’s what her family does.

Kellie Collier, 12, said she has competed since she was 3 years old and has won “about six or seven saddles.”

“I even competed at nationals for junior high and I’m only in sixth grade,” she said. With a pole bending score of 20.7, she said she competes because of “the horses I have and the fans I have. They all support me so much it makes me want to go do good.”

She said her mom is her biggest helper.

Even though children in rodeo families are born into this wild west lifestyle, getting to this week’s finals requires discipline.

“They practice all the time. You don’t practice, you don’t win,” said Harris’ grandfather, who grew up calf roping.

Kelvin Sharp of Levelland, Texas, and his 8-year-old son John practiced roping a calf made of PVC pipe near their RV set up Thursday at the Curry County Fairgrounds.

The family has belonged to the association for four years. As the president of South Plains College, calf roping isn’t part of Sharp’s work. But Sharp said he and his wife always felt it was important for their children to be involved in rodeo.

“Even when our jobs are not ranching or farming, we were interested in it,” Sharp said. “We like the family focus of it, the parent involvement. The kids learn a sense of responsibility when taking care of animals.”

The Sharp children, John and Lindsey, 11, spent up to three hours a day practicing since the middle of March.

Being on the road is a commitment. Organizers said past participants have gone on to earn college scholarships and compete professionally.

“Some of these kids have been on the road for three weeks straight, going from one finals to another finals to these finals,” said Karen McDaniel, longtime coordinator of HPJRA Finals.

The season-ending event this week drew 135 entries, officials said.

“It’s very family oriented. It’s also a lot of work, these kids spend a lot of time on horseback,” McDaniel said. “This is fun for them, but for a lot of them, this is what they do at home.”

Trent Bilberry of Elida said his family has been involved with rodeo since his great-grandfather competed.

“It’s a family sport, this is a group effort. We travel year round,” said Bilberry, a leader in 16-19 year-old calf roping.

Wilma Fulgham, a former Miss Rodeo New Mexico, said rodeo has always been part of the cowboy and rancher culture.

“It’s part of their heritage,” Fulgham said.

Freedom New Mexico writer Liliana Castillo contributed to this report.