Four Pocahontas County teens have learned that rodeo is a state of mind and not about living in the wild, wild west.
Mya Workman, Hannah Burks, Allyson Alderman and Keaton Baldwin have joined the ranks of West Virginia Junior High and High School Rodeo to compete in events like pole bending, barrel racing, goat tying and even, bull riding.
Without an official team in the county, the teens received help from former rodeo participants and enthusiasts Nicole Barlow and Jarrett and Emily McLaughlin, who gave offered pointers to the young people on what to expect.
“My cousin [Nicole Barlow] did it when she was in high school, and so we decided to try it, too, because it sounded like fun,” Burks said. “I’ve been riding since I was around two.”
The group of four has traveled to Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia to compete against other teams who have had more training, but they have managed to come out on top in several events.
The girls compete in goat tying, barrels, breakaway roping and more.
“It’s six poles lined straight, fifteen feet apart,” Alderman said, explaining poles. “You run down, weave back through and then run back down.”
The running is, of course, done by a horse, but the girls have to keep control and are in charge when it comes to racing.
With barrel racing, the girls ride around three barrels in a clover pattern.
Goat tying? Well, that’s a little more intense.
“You run down, you jump off your horse, you run after the goat,” Workman said. “You have to flip it on the ground and tie its legs together, and they have to stay together for five seconds.”
Breakaway roping is just as difficult. The girls have a rope tethered to the horn of their saddle. They rope a calf while riding horseback and the time stops when the rope snaps off of the horn.
Despite what sounds like an impossible mission, the girls have done well and Workman and Burks will be participating in the national competition in South Dakota this summer.
“I was third in barrels and third in poles,” Workman said. “That’s what I qualified with to go to South Dakota.”
“I’m going to go to South Dakota because I got grand champion poles, barrels and goat tying,” Burks added. “I also got Rookie of the Year.”
The girls said they have really enjoyed participating in the rodeo and hope to continue to ride in the coming years. They agree that the competition is fun and exciting, but the best part of rodeo is the people.
“I think it’s the atmosphere,” Burks said. “It’s like a second family.”
“Everyone’s there to help everyone,” Workman said.
For Baldwin, the only male rodeo student, the stakes are a little higher. When he began rodeo, his intention was to learn to do team rope and roping, but somehow, he changed, and got into bull riding. The change worked in his favor, as he is now the number one high school bull rider in the state.
“I just always wanted to do it,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot. It looked like fun.”
Like the girls, Baldwin was pretty much on his own when it came to practice. He worked with Jarrett McLaughlin, but said a lot of his training was trial and error – on a 1,500 pound bull.
“Most people practice, practice, practice,” Baldwin said. “That’s what you should do. That’s what I should be doing. But I just got on top of a bull and rode it, and I watched videos.”
Throughout the year, Baldwin has competed in seven rodeos and did 15 rides on a bull.
While some may call a good eight second ride “luck of the draw,” Baldwin said there really is a technique to bull riding.
“Most people think you get on it and hold on – it’s lucky,” he said. “But, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. There’s a lot of technique to it. Balance is one thing. It’s really in your knees and your legs, your balance, and the way you throw your arm. If you’re spinning to the right, throw your arm over yourself and if you’re spinning the other way, you throw your arm behind you.”
Even with practice and good technique, a bull is still a bull and there is a risk of getting hurt – one of the main reasons Baldwin’s mom, Anita Workman, was against his bull riding foray. Baldwin shrugs it off, saying he’s been hurt a couple times and has been sent to the hospital, but it hasn’t been bad.
“I’ve got hit in the head two or three times and hit in the shoulders and stepped on,” he said. “I had to go to the hospital, but nothing bad.”
Despite those close calls, Baldwin is always ready to get back on the bull and do his best.
Baldwin will take his skills to the national competition this summer in Wyoming and represent West Virginia against other states and countries, including Canada and Australia.