By Eric Butler: PNT Correspondent
CLOVIS — Like a steer with a lasso around his head, events such as the High Plains Junior Rodeo Association Finals are starting to feel the squeeze these days.
Not only does the HPJRA have to contend with other rodeo associations and their events, which may take place at the same time, but the price of gas is expected to force participants into some choices in the near future.
The finals began in Clovis on Tuesday as competitors up to the age of 19 took their turn at rodeo events at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena.
The event will continue until Saturday, when the season’s champions will be crowned.
In the morning session, Janesa Garcia of Las Vegas, N.M., had the best time for the 16-19 year-old girls barrel racing. The 14-year-old, who moved into an older age bracket in order to face more competition, regularly competes in three rodeo circuits: New Mexico junior high school, 4-H and the High Plains Junior Rodeo Association.
“We were already committed to these organizations before the gas prices really went up,” said Janie Garcia, Janesa’s mother. “As far as limiting ourselves this year, we didn’t, but I’m sure next year it’s going to make a difference.”
Attendance at this year’s HPJRA Finals is down by around 20 from a year ago, according to Travis Howe, president of the organization.
Janie Garcia said in her opinion that the High Plains circuit is in relatively good shape.
Janie Garcia said her daughter would probably drop 4-H rodeos next year.
“The numbers were down in High Plains, but not nearly like the ones in 4-H,” she said.
Howe sees polar-opposite possibilities for the rodeos he oversees.
“It’s either gonna increase and everyone’s gonna migrate to the High Plains because they’re close,” Howe said. “Or, it’s gonna decline because everyone’s gonna go to the high school and junior high rodeos, because there’s a little bit more of a future there — because they have nationals and stuff like that.”
The evening session of the HPJRA Finals was staged in a virtual mud-pit as rain hit just before the 6 p.m. scheduled start.
The first contestant of the night, Seaver Tate in the 13-15 chute dogging, was dragged across the arena by a calf as he was unable to find a dry spot to plant his feet. But Tate was persistent and, feet firmly against the far fence, finally did force the animal down after a 26-second mud ride.
Joel Kirkpatrick of Crosbyton, Texas, whose sons Tylo and Zack are in the competition, said he plans on continuing to be part of such excitement in the future — even if it means that he has to miss some of the High Plains rodeos leading up the finals.
“I think it (the price of gas) is fixing to start slowing people down. I think next summer is going to be even worse,” Kirkpatrick said.
“Once you get qualified (for the finals), win a point, you don’t have to go to anymore,” he added. “Next year, I’d sure like to haul these boys, but we’ll probably have to stay closer to the house.”