This isn’t Brooklynn Elam’s first rodeo.
Elam, 12, of Coal City, has been riding horses for nearly half her life and competes in rodeos every other weekend. Later this month, she and her horses, Bunny and Cowgirl, will compete inthe the 15th annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Huron, South Dakota from June 23 to 29.
Elam, a seventh grader at Coal City Middle School, will join roughly 1,000 other contestants from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico to compete for $80,000 in prizes and $200,000 in college scholarships.
Elam qualified for nationals in three out of five categories at the state level: barrel racing, pole bending and break away. Barrel racing and pole bending are both obstacle-courses for the horses and riders, while break away focuses on lassoing a running calf.
“If I had to pick a favorite [event] I’d say break away because I practice it the most,” Elam said.
Elam said she tries to practice her sport every day. This could mean lassoing a dummy calf in the driveway or taking her horses to a local arena to run the barrels. According to Elam, rodeo events leave a lot to chance. You never know if a calf will be fast or slow or how your horses will perform on that day. That’s why it’s important to consistently spend a lot of time with your horses and get to know their unique walks and temperaments.
Elam’s mother Taushia said her daughter had always wanted to get involved in rodeo.
“She started begging us in first grade to let her get involved in rodeo,” Taushia Elam said, “It wasn’t till third grade that she was allowed to start.”
Rodeo isn’t for the faint of heart. Elam has had her share of falls and bruises. She said although she’s been bucked off multiple times, she doesn’t let that stop her.
“I really enjoy [rodeo] so I always get back up on my horse,” Elam said.
Although she’s happy she gets to compete, Elam said she’s most excited to spend time with other jr. high schoolers from around the country. She and three other Illinois qualifiers already have matching costumes picked out for one of the night time events.
The junior high division was created in 2004 as part of the National High School Rodeo Association. The division was established to bring the sport and its high intensity competitoin to students in middle school and junor hight, as a feeder system into the high school ranks of the Association.
More than 2,500 6th, 7th, and 8th graders are members nationally, and compete in a variety of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, chute dogging, team roping, ribbon roping, and junior bull riding, bareback steer riding and saddle bronc steer riding.
Many of the same programs that are offered to high school members of the association are also offered to junior high members as well, including the Professional’s Choice Student Athlete of the Month.
If Elam becomes a world champion in any of her events, she said she’d give her horses a vacation and take them swimming.