A new draw
Times they are a-changing.
The National High School Rodeo Association added a new event – reined cow horse – to their lineup last year.
Cutting has been a National High School Rodeo Association event since 1949.
“About three years ago, the people at National Reined Cow Horse Association contacted us about a sponsorship to get the event incorporated, so we worked on that for about a year,” said James Higginbotham, NHSRA Executive Director. “It became an event for qualifying rodeos as well as finals with 102 entries in national finals the first year and 112 this year.”
NHSRA focuses on high memberships and growing numbers, as does NRCHA.
“We’re hoping reined cow horse is an advantage to us in membership and naturally that’s what NRCHA is wanting as well,” Higginbotham said. “We have members that have joined our association just for this event.”
NHSRA Finals 2015 hosted the largest youth reined cow horse class, according to NRCHA.
“I don’t have children within high school rodeo but have seen the positive effect on the cowhorse industry,” said Katie Walker, of Encampment, Wyoming. “There are more kids involved, more opportunities for horses, and there are great options for kids to go to clinics with trainers I’d give my right arm to go work with. I’ve seen lots of improvement in the kids’ horsemanship and stockmanship also.”
The class features two portions. As printed in the NHSRA rule book, “Contestants are evaluated in rein work (a pattern consisting of circles, lead changes, sliding stops, spins, and backing up) and cow work (“boxing” or controlling a single cow on the end of the arena, then turning it on the fence and circling it in the open).”
For the argument of reined cow horse being a non-typical rodeo event, Higginbotham considers more the draw of youth to competing on horses and more specifically within the new class.
“We also have pole bending, goat tying, and ribbon roping that aren’t normal high school rodeo events, as well as cutting,” he said. “I don’t really care what event they are in if I can get a kid on a horse and participating in some sort of event. It builds character and gives responsibility; to me if I can get a kid on a horse, that’s what I want to do.”
As for negative feedback, Higginbotham is unconcerned.
“There just aren’t any negatives [for having reined cow horse] other than people’s preferences of what they like to have. We have events that appeal to different people. We have 12,108 members, we are membership-driven and have grown eight percent over last year,” he said.
Each state and province is required to offer reined cow horse at a minimum of three rodeos per year, the same as cutting. Many states, Higginbotham said, choose to offer the classes at each rodeo.
Though NRCHA is a sponsor, those competing in reined cow horse are offered the same awards.
“They get saddles, buckles, scholarship, and various other smaller items through top ten and the same benefits as everybody else,” Higginbotham said.
Sadie Sturman, coming sophomore of Lusk, Wyoming, competed in her first year of high school rodeo and is heading to NHSRA Finals next week in Gillette, Wyoming, to compete in reined cow horse. She is sitting fourth in Wyoming heading into finals.
Heidi Sturman, her mother, said she thinks reined cow horse was a “good addition. I think it adds a different element for kids to compete in that they wouldn’t have a chance to excel at in other rodeo events, just because it’s different. I like that part about it.”
Sadie also competes in breakaway roping, though on a different horse.
“When you get up to that level, it’s hard to use the same horses. Some people do, but it’s hard to do both events and do them well because of the reining component,” Heidi said. “It probably takes an exceptional horse.”
Sadie’s classmate Peyton Kottwitz, also of Lusk, competes in reined cow horse as well as breakaway roping and barrel racing on the same horse.
“It makes my horse respond when I need him to and makes him capable of more,” Kottwitz said. “More events make Pete more solid and broke. Training him myself makes it rewarding to be able to compete in the variety of classes and have him be well-rounded.”
“Reined cow horse makes much better horseman out of the kids, and gives them another area to compete after high school rodeo,” said Patty Julian, of Fallon, Nevada, and a parent to former NHSRA athletes. “Good reined cow horses make awesome rope horses without much effort. I think it is good for high school rodeo.”
Not fitting the typical event, NHSRA has offered shooting sports in their program since 2005. Higginbotham said it was included for the same reason as reined cow horse, to draw members that may not otherwise participate in high school rodeo.
“Half of participants will come to do nothing but shoot, but then we have them involved in high school rodeo and activities,” he said. “From there they may try calf roping, or bareback riding, and then get them into rodeo. We want to promote rodeo and maintain rodeo but also looking to get families together; it’s not just about rodeo, it’s about family, it’s about education.”
NHSRA offers $350,000 in scholarships at its finals, Higginbotham said, and among all participating nations: Canada, Australia, and the United States, $1.5 million is awarded to participants.
Higginbotham said NHSRA has no plans to frequently add events.
“At some point you can just get too many, but have enjoyed having reining cow horse,” he said. “It was well-received last year.”
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Nebraska’s Big Rodeo put Burwell on the map, and now in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.