Donnelly cousins a force at NHSRA finals |

Donnelly cousins a force at NHSRA finals

Riley Donnelly landed third with 2.46 seconds in the first round of breakaway roping at National High School Rodeo Association finals. Photo by Joel Bergason

Cousins and neighbors Jill Donnelly ]]and Riley Donnelly, of Elk Point, South Dakota, have proven that they’re as tough as the other Donnelly girls before them and a shining example for the Donnelly girls to follow. Each of the girls is one of several sisters, Riley, 16, is one of seven daughters, including step sisters, and Jill, 18, is the youngest of four daughters, all of whom have rodeoed ahead of and with Jill.

She started out team roping with her sister Kylee before roping with her cousin Riley, who was a sophomore last year during Jill’s senior year. They qualified for South Dakota High School Association finals in team roping, where Riley, the header, missed in the first round, but they pulled off a second in the second round with 9.810 seconds.

Both girls also compete in breakaway roping, goat tying, pole bending, and barrel racing, and Jill also tried her hand at reined cow horse as well this year.

They both qualified for National High School Rodeo Association Finals in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in July for the second time, and both found themselves in the girls top-ten all-around for a few glee-filled rounds.

“I didn’t really even know I was in the all-around until my dad was telling me how this one girl and I were at the top after my first two rounds,” Riley said. “It was pretty cool.”

Like her cousin, Jill didn’t know right away that she was in contention for all-around; she treated nationals like she would any other rodeo, doing her best in all her events. Jill qualified in reined cow horse, breakaway roping, and goat tying, and Riley in breakaway roping and pole bending.

National finals was filled with up and downs and opportunities to learn and grow. In breakaway, Jill found herself with two no times, and in reined cow horse, her first round wasn’t very good, in her words, and she landed in 65th place of 101 with a score of 268. Her second run picked up, and she moved to 31st with a 281.

“For reined cow horse, Kitty is a friend of ours’ horse,” Jill said. “It was my first year doing reined cow horse, and it was pretty cool she was able to get me to nationals with not much experience of my own.”

In Jill’s favorite event, goat tying, she consistently received times of 7.5 seconds in both the first and second rounds, which landed her tied for fourth in the first go, but her goat got up in the second round, resulting in a no-time. Part of the reason that goat tying is Jill’s favorite has to do with Barbie, her goat-tying horse that she trained and seasoned on goats herself.

“It’s fun to see her doing well for me,” she said.

Her barrel horse Hottie, who won her the SDHSRA barrel racing championship last year and 10th in barrels at national finals, got injured at a regional rodeo, so she was out for SDHSRA finals. She should be ready to compete with Jill in college at Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona.

Assistant coach Lynn Smith, with whom Jill has taken several clinics, was a big driving force for Jill choosing Cochise, where she plans to breakaway rope, barrel race, tie goats, and possibly team rope.

Without her team roping partner in the same state or even time zone, Riley will return to team roping with Shane Anderson, of Viborg, South Dakota, who she team roped with in junior high, where she also made it to national finals each year.

At NHSRA finals this year, she also caught her share of hard luck and a few shining moments. In her first round of poles, Riley and her favorite horse Clyde put up a personal best time, 20.549, to land tenth in the go, even faster than her 20.997-second run that landed her second in the first round of SDHSRA finals and helped her secure second in the average.

“Grandpa came home with Clyde one day, out of the blue,” Riley said. “He said he got him because he looked like a pretty horse and just picked him out. I never rode him when we first got him. My dad got him and turned him into a rope horse. I started riding him, and Grandpa helped me get him started on poles and barrels.”

She also had a stellar breakaway round, landing in third with 2.46 seconds.

From there, national finals went a little downhill for Riley. She missed her calf in breakaway roping, and tipped a pole in pole bending, her favorite event.

“I really think it’s just fun to do; having a nice run and weaving through,” Riley said. “I have accomplished a lot with Clyde in poles. Most of my buckles have been with him through poles.”

She is hopeful that she will make it back to nationals her remaining years of high school and is hopeful that she can add her name as a goat tying contestant on the NHSRA finals roster.

“After seeing how state went for me, it really opened my eyes that I can make it back,” she said.

At SDHSRA finals, Riley captured sixth with a 8.27 in the first round, then grabbed first in the second round with her 7.11-second run. She “messed up and took forever,” she said, in the short go to end sixth in the average.

Both Riley and Jill look up to their dads, who are brothers, as their role models and can always count on them to be their biggest fans.

“He helps me a lot in the practice pen and takes me everywhere,” Jill said. “It would be pretty hard to do it without him, but I’m going to have to.”

With Riley, her older sister Payton has also been a source of inspiration and wisdom.

“My dad really helped me out a lot through the years; he got me going in rodeo,” she said. “As a little sister, I’ve always wanted to do what my sister does. She came back for the summer and helped me in breakaway. If I missed, or my horse was in the wrong spot, she would help me with that. That was really nice.”