FARMINGTON— In the coming days six area youths will load their horses into trailers and begin their trip to the biggest stage in high school rodeo, the 2014 National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Those qualifying for the finals and their events are Baillie Wiseman and Haley Wolfe in barrel racing, McKenzie Kemple in pole bending, brother and sister Matthew and Holly McGlasson in cutting, and Jacob Spencer in bull riding. The Daily Times spoke with Wolfe, the McGlassons, and Spencer about their rodeo experience and the upcoming competition.
Holly McGlasson, a 2014 Aztec High School graduate, will compete in cutting for the second year in a row, an impressive feat considering her uncommon beginnings in the event.
McGlasson first saw cutting while watching a rodeo on TV, and shortly after she went to her first live cutting event at a McGee Park rodeo.
"They had one here and we came in to watch it and I met the guy who ended up being my trainer, Jerry Lucas," she said. "He really got me started."
It wasn't until her freshman year of high school that she began the discipline.
At last year's national finals McGlasson ranked second after the first go-around, but finished 22nd after a shaky performance in the short round. She admits that there is a little more pressure this year to have a strong performance, but feels the experience from last year will be a major benefit.
"I think the nerves aren't as bad this year," McGlasson said. "Especially since this is my last year I know it's my last shot so you can't really leave anything out. It's kind of all or nothing."
McGlasson will also get to be a fan at this year's finals, cheering on her younger brother, Matthew, who qualified in cutting as well.
Matthew McGlasson, an incoming Aztec High sophomore, followed his sister into rodeo, but was initially hesitant.
"Whatever my sister was doing I didn't have much interest in," he said. "I ended up just trying it out eventually and enjoyed it and just stuck with it."
He said he is looking forward to a change of routine in the trip to nationals, being able to compete instead of being stuck in the stands watching.
The 15-year-old said he isn't worried about going up against older, more experienced cutters.
"There's not much to be worried about," McGlasson said. "It's the same pen with cows, and I'm doing the same thing I've been doing all year. I'm nervous, naturally, but no more than what's to be expected at nationals."
Wolfe, 18, competing out of Flora Vista, followed her mother and grandmother into rodeo, starting at the age of three.
The early start in rodeo has paid off so far, winning back-to-back Arizona State Championships in barrel racing to qualify for the national finals for the second time.
"I think it will help a lot," Wolfe said of her previous experience at nationals. "Last year I was a nervous wreck. It scared me to death. But this year I know what I need to do"
Wolfe isn't putting pressure on herself to finish at the top, saying that if she performs her best there's not much else she could ask for.
"Last year wasn't good because I made myself so nervous. It wasn't worth it," Wolfe said. "I'm just gonna go there positive and have fun."
Spencer, who will be a senior at Bloomfield High School, started rodeo when he was six years old. After competing in multiple disciplines for a few years, he began to lose his passion for the sport.
"Eventually, I really just wasn't into it anymore," Spencer said, "so I decided that I just wanted to ride bulls and just went to bull riding because, it was easier."
The change reinvigorated Spencer's love of rodeo.
"I don't know what I would do if it wasn't for bull riding," Spencer said. "It'd be weird. I'd have a lost life."
Having bull riding to focus on has helped Spencer in aspects of life outside the arena. It gives him extra incentive to work hard in school so that he might earn a rodeo scholarship. He even relates school to bull riding. He said that in bull riding you are constantly challenging yourself to get to the next level, like graduating from one school and moving on to the next. He says that when he started out riding steers it was like elementary school, he had to learn the basics before moving up to junior bull riding, which was like junior high, where times tables turn into algebra.
"And now I'm in open bull, like high school," Spencer said.
Spencer feels his experience in bull riding has made him more mature. Instead of sleeping in during the summer like most 17-year-olds, he's out helping his family on the ranch, trying to pay them back for the support they've given him.
It's also Spencer's second trip to the national finals. At last year's competition he finished second overall, and with that experience he'll be better prepared mentally, which will help him achieve his goal of covering all three of his bulls.
"If you cover all three of your bulls you have a good chance to win," Spencer said. "I covered all three last year and it didn't end up falling my way. But that's all you can do, cover all three of your bulls and whatever else happens, happens."