BLOOMFIELD — Six San Juan County area girls returned from Rock Springs, Wyo., on Sunday and Monday after showcasing their skills in the world's largest annual rodeo.
More than 1,500 contestants from 42 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia made their way to Wyoming to compete in the 67th annual National High School Finals Rodeo from July 12-18.
Baillie Wiseman, Ciara LeFebre, Tyllor Ledford, Lauren Kelsey, and Kenzie and Keylie Kemple qualified for the event and represented San Juan County. More than $200,000 in prizes and another $350,000 in college scholarships were doled out over the course of the week.
Jacob Spencer, a 2015 Bloomfield High graduate, also qualified for the event, but was unable to compete because of a separated AC joint in his shoulder and a damaged collarbone. He suffered those injuries in a bull riding competition in May.
"I thought it might be all right if I gave it a few days, but it kept getting worse," Spencer said. "I have a full bull riding scholarship at Western Texas (University), so after talking with doctors and getting X-rays and stuff, I decided it probably wouldn't be worth it to risk making the injury worse."
Spencer is the only three-time bull riding state champion in New Mexico history.
Wiseman qualified in both pole bending and barrel racing, having won a state championship in the latter this year. She said she couldn't recall where she placed in either competition in Rock Springs, but says she did think she improved after a pair of rocky starts.
"My horses worked really well down there, but I didn't have good first rounds," Wiseman said. "I hit a barrel and a pole in the first round. My second go-round was a lot better, and I would have come back strong in both events if I didn't hit a pole."
A 19-year-old graduate of Dora Cyber School, Wiseman will be attending Western Oklahoma State College in Altus, Okla., on a rodeo scholarship.
LeFebre, an 18-year-old graduate of Faith Christian Academy, competes in barrels, breakaway roping and goat tying, and qualified for the event in goat tying.
"I tied for fifth through seventh in the second round," LeFebre said of her performance. "That was after not doing very well in the first round."
LeFebre said she will be going to school at San Juan College to pursue a career in chiropractics. She hopes to compete in the Indian National Finals Rodeo next year.
Ledford, 17, is heading into her junior year at Durango (Colo.) High School. She qualified in the reined cow horse, which was new to the NHSFR this year.
Ledford said she took 32nd overall in the event and was proud of her horse.
"My horse worked his very best, and I can't ask him for any more than his best," she said.
Kelsey just finished her sophomore year at Insight of Colorado, a home schooling program. Like Ledford, the 16-year-old qualified in the reining cow horse event.
She placed in the top 60 at Rock Springs and said she hopes to compete in the event again next year.
"I had a couple of mental breakdowns, to be honest, and didn't do as well as I could have," Kelsey said. "So I'll be better prepared mentally next time."
The Kemple sisters both qualified in the pole bending event. Kenzie, 18, graduated from Piedra Vista in May. Keylie, 15, was a freshman at PV last year, but will be home schooled until graduation.
Kenzie said she didn't do as well as she hoped she would do after hitting a pole in both rounds, but she was still proud of her horse, Dallas.
"My horse is like my best friend. We know each other inside and out," Kenzie said. "We tried to speed up at one point, and we hit a pole. But I'm really happy with how he did."
Keylie ended up sixth overall in pole bending and said she was really proud of herself.
"My second run was my fastest run and my best run," she said. "I felt like everything in that run just kind of flowed. It wasn't like I was trying to hurry or anything, it was just kind of natural."
Keylie said she wants to pursue a career in the veterinary field or in equine science. Kenzie will attend the University of Colorado this fall and said she hopes to become a pediatric anesthesiologist.