FARMINGTON — San Juan County is home to some of the top young cowboys and cowgirls in the country.
This year, eight area high school teenagers have earned the right to compete in the National High School Finals Rodeo on July 14 to 20 in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Here's a look the eight who qualified:
All her life, Lindsey Ashcroft's goal was to be a rodeo queen.
Ashcroft will get that opportunity at the NHSFR after being named Miss New Mexico High School Rodeo.
"Ever since I was little, all I've wanted to be a rodeo queen," said Ashcroft, who will start her senior year at Bloomfield High School in the fall. "I'm so excited to represent the entire state of New Mexico."
Ashcroft will compete against 44 other girls in five categories -- horsemanship, speech, modeling, interviewing and a written test -- for the title of National High School Finals Rodeo Queen.
Ashcroft is excited for the opportunity to compete for the first time at the NHSFR.
"I'll be there to support all the New Mexico kids and the Four Corners team," she said. "I'm ready to go talk to everyone and help to educate them about rodeo."
After battling his entire high school career, Justin Hamilton will be going to the NHSFR for the first time.
"It was pretty hard. I've had to fight injuries in the past, but this year I was really happy to make it," he said. "I just need to focus on the finals. I don't care where I finish."
Hamilton said he's had the desire to ride in the saddle bronc event for as long as he can remember.
"I just watched it on TV when I was younger and always wanted to try it," he said.
Hamilton, who graduated from Aztec High School in the spring, will also be competing in saddle bronc for Casper College this fall in Wyoming.
MacKenzie Kemple enters the NHSFR for the first time after winning the Arizona state pole bending title on June 15.
"I just heard about the association there and it sounded really cool so we went there and decided to try new things," said Kemple, of competing in Arizona. "It's fun to go there and make new friends and meet a lot of new people."
The Farmington native is ready for her first NHSFR and has been practicing hard to prepare for the event.
"I just hope to make it to the short go at least and beat some of my personal records," said Kemple, who attends Piedra Vista High School. "I know my horse really well and know what to expect. It took us a couple years to be compatible, but now we make a really good team."
For the third-straight year, Holly McGlasson will be competing in the cutting event at the NHSFR.
McGlasson said most of the credit for qualifying goes to the new horse she's been working with for the past year.
"He's been absolutely amazing," said McGlasson, who will start her senior year at Aztec High in the fall. "Then we hooked up with trainers Jerry and Chad Lucas, and they've been amazing. I wouldn't be anywhere close if it wasn't for them."
In the cutting event, McGlasson and her horse will be judged on their ability to separate a single cow from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.
McGlasson said she'll spend most of her time studying the event at the rodeo to put together the best performance she can.
"I'll be watching all of the cutting so I can learn about the cows and the ground and the arena," McGlasson said. "I just have to stay out of my horse's way. He does perfectly fine. I just need to set him up right and let him do his work."
Trap Shooting and Team Roping
Jesse Rogers is actually looking forward to the pressure that comes with defending a national title.
Rogers, who won the trap shooting competition at the 2012 NHSFR, will get a chance to make it back-to-back championships in the event.
"I just have to walk in and shoot my game. That's what I did last year, and it worked out really well for me. I'm sticking to the same game plan," Rogers said. "There's a little pressure knowing the target is on your back, but that's pressure I welcome. It's going to keep me sharp and keep me focused. That added pressure will make me shoot my best and keep me from making the little mistakes that can cost you."
The 2013 Bloomfield High graduate will also be competing in the team roping competition for the first time at the rodeo with his partner, Wasey Carviso from Fort Wingate.
Rogers said is excited to compete in the rodeo with one of his best friends.
"That friendship makes this partnership a lot easier. We both have a plan, and we know what each other is going to do," said Rogers, who will be attending New Mexico State University in the fall. "It's nice to know that you're there with one of your good friends, and even if things don't work out the way you want them to in the arena, you're still going to be able to ride out there with a friend."
Bloomfield is building a strong bull riding tradition, and Jacob Spencer is hoping to add to it.
Spencer, who just finished his sophomore year at Bloomfield High, said he'd like to follow in the footsteps of Bloomfield native Joseph McConnel, who won the 2012 NHSFR bull riding title and is currently competing in the Professional Bull Riders tour.
"He's one of my biggest role models for sure," he said of McConnel. "We're always talking, and hopefully I can do what he did."
Spencer is confident going into the event and likes his chances of putting together some solid rides.
"I've just been trying to get on as many bulls as I can just to get ready for this event. I'm just trying to be prepared for anything. Bull riding is all mental. Everyone has the ability to make the rides, but it's just about clearing your head," he said. "As long as I'm there mentally, then I think I have a really good shot at it."
After missing out on the 2012 NHSFR, Baillee Wiseman put all her energy into for qualifying this year's rodeo.
Wiseman accomplished that goal and will be competing in the barrels event for the first time at the competition.
"It's really exciting. Last year, I missed it when I hit a barrel, and I was really upset," said Wiseman, who finished her junior year at Piedra Vista High School in May. "All my focus was getting to nationals."
Wiseman won the Junior High National barrels title as a sixth-grader and would love to add the NHSFR title to her collection.
"Everyone is trying to go in there and win it," she said. "I definitely want to be in the top 20 at least."
Like Kemple, Haley Wolfe is also an Arizona state finals champion and will be competing in the NHSFR for the first time.
"I just decided to go through there to try something new," Wolfe said of competing in Arizona. "I like it a whole lot there. I felt comfortable, and my horse rode good in all the arenas. I feel like I'm going into nationals on a positive note."
Winning a title in the barrels competition was a boost to Wolfe's confidence, and she's excited that the work she and her family have put in is paying off.
"I've been working on this since sixth grade, and I feel I've accomplished my goal," said Wolfe, who resides in Flora Vista. "I just want to thank my dad for keeping my horses sound. I'm happy to be there and have this experience."
Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.