Riding the rodeo road: High school rodeo contestants pursue their passion up miles of highway | VailDaily.com

Riding the rodeo road: High school rodeo contestants pursue their passion up miles of highway

EAGLE — High school rodeo contestants are up before the crack of dawn every weekend day because they love it.

"It's our passion," Makaylee Fisher said.

Fisher, 13, lives in Eagle. Elaine Connor, 15, is from Delta. They're members of the Rocky Mountain Shooters Rodeo Team. They opened their fall season last weekend in Eagle.

Then again, it's always rodeo season.

The fall season runs through December, the spring season through April, and then they compete in the state rodeo. If they finish in the top four, then they advance to the National High School Finals Rodeo.

Then they start on the summer rodeo circuit.

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They do it because they love it.

"I would do anything to rodeo," Fisher said.

Horsepower and passion

They're passionate about their dreams, and they chase those dreams in a truck. Most weekends, they spend hours on the road, headed to that week's high school rodeo.

Last weekend it was Eagle. Next week it's Cortez, then Grand Junction, then to the Front Range for an event in Latigo — possibly the best-named rodeo venue ever.

With that much time in a truck, they know almost every lyric to almost every song ever written.

Tori Davis coaches the Rocky Mountain Shooters and knows every mile of the rodeo road. She was raised in Eagle and migrated west to Rifle with her husband, Terry. They've been living the rodeo life for as long as either can remember and are now helping members of the Rocky Mountain Shooters Rodeo Team do the same.

The Rocky Mountain Shooters come from Eagle, Garfield, Montrose and Delta counties.

"We pull out early Friday morning, sometimes Thursday night, depending on where we're headed," Connor said.

Once they're there, wherever there is, they unload their horses, walk their horses, rinse their horses, brush their horses, feed and water their horses and generally fuss over their horses.

On an event day — usually Saturday and Sunday when their friends back home are sleeping until noon — they're up at 5:30 a.m. or so to feed and water their horses and make sure their horses are ready — and properly fussed over.

Once their horses think they're properly fussed over, they see to themselves.

They ride between 15 and 19 seconds through a barrel course, depending on the course and whether their horse feels like going fast, and they almost always do.

They'll also compete in pole bending, breakaway roping, goat tying and ribbon roping and any number of other events.

Rough stock riders — bulls and broncs — could almost carry their gear to an event on a dirt bike. They cover the same miles, and their rides last 8 seconds, if they're good … and lucky. During Sunday's final round in Eagle, only one bull rider made it to the 8-second buzzer.

"That's their passion, too," Fisher said.

Then again, you could break down any sport like that, comparing the hours of preparation to the moments of competition.

Rodeo family

When they're not in a truck traveling to a rodeo, they're fussing over their horses at home. After they fuss over their horses a lot and themselves a little, they practice so the triangular barrel patterns are solidly implanted in their horses' brains. Some horses want to start the pattern on the right, some on the left. It's up to the horse, Connor said.

"If they won't go either way, they're meant for another event," Fisher said.

Horse and rider must be of one mind.

"There are lots of fast horses," Fisher said. "The question is whether they'll be fast for you. Horses have attitude, like people. Sometimes they're amazing; sometimes they're awful."

If they have a bad run, then they brush it off.

"There will soon be another event," Connor said.

They see many of the same kids everywhere they go, which they say is a great thing.

"It's like they become part of your family," Connor said.

"Like your family, you're closer to some, but you'd still do anything for any of them," Fisher said.

They'll see them again soon, somewhere up the rodeo road.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.