By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
The dirt was flying during the second day of competition Saturday evening at the 41st Little Wranglers Junior Rodeo buckle finals at the Mounted Patrol Arena in Portales.
More than 70 of Roosevelt County’s best young cowboys and cowgirls, ages 6-18, are competing in nine events for buckles and — for the first time in the program’s 40-year history — saddles.
According to event organizers, the saddles are worth approximately $600.
“That’s a big deal to a kid, getting a saddle,” Little Wranglers President Rustin Rowley said. “Plus we’re still giving away the same number of buckles that we always have, so it’s a pretty big deal.”
Saturday’s session was the second night in the two-night event. Competition was expected to continue late into the night and awards will be given out tonight at 6 p.m. at the Jake Lopez Building at the Roosevelt County Fairgrounds.
Portales resident Mike Smith’s 9-year-old daughter Kaylee Smith is competing in barrel racing, flag racing, poles and goat tying.
“She practices, she rides every time she gets a chance,” Smith said. “She really likes coming here. She likes this one because she gets a chance to win a buckle. It gives her a little more incentive.”
Smith also says this is Kaylee’s second year competing, and she’s vastly improved.
“The improvements she made from last year to this year — when she first started in barrels she was running like a minute six (seconds) and now she runs 22 or 23 (seconds).”
Portales resident Shania Johnson, 10, competed against her two older sisters — and beat them.
“I think I did good,” Shania said. “It’s fun.”
According to Shania’s mom Renee Johnson, it’s a family affair.
“She’s got two older sisters who do it too,” Johnson said. “I barrel raced until I was about 10 and then we went into showing horses.
And the Little Wrangler program has enabled Shania and her two sisters to improve on their horses.
“They’ve rode ever since they were little, but they’ve really improved this year.” Johnson said.
“It’s been a really good year,” Rowley said. “Looks like all the kids got a lot better all year to me. We run a lot of (good times) in the barrel racing.”
Shantel Allison and Gabby Edwards, both 14, are friends, but opponents in barrel racing, poles and breakaway roping.
“I’m doing pretty good,” Allison said.
Allison pointed out that breakaway roping is her favorite event.
“I like to rope,” Allison said.
“I just like coming out here,” Edwards said. “It’s fun.”
Tori Christensen, 13 has been in Portales for two summers and Tori’s aunt Kam Kiehne says the program has been great for her niece.
“It’s really good for kids that are just getting started,” Kiehne said. “They’re not competing with kids all over the state, just kids from their own community.”
Tori is competing in barrel racing, poles and goat tying and has a chance to place in all three events.