(left to right) Sam Arndorfer, Cassidy Hutchison, Ashlyn Klatt, Zoey Wagoner, and Randy Hilzendeger [Photo: Craig Maley Photography]
Triumphs and the experience of rodeo — wins big or small — was what this past weekend and the North Dakota Junior High Rodeo (NDJHR) season is all about. State titles were achieved, winning runs were laid down, more importantly — a generation of young competitors are making their own track on the infinite journey of rodeo.
Bowman, N.D. hosted the NDJHR Finals on May 19 and 20, 2023. The top four contestants from each event go on to represent North Dakota in Perry, Georgia at the National Junior High Rodeo Finals this June 18-24, 2023.
There are a lot of ‘firsts’ when it comes to junior high rodeo. Whether it be the first run on a new horse or training/seasoning your own horse to maneuver at speed through an event to the first humbling loss or the first victorious smile, the North Dakota youth gave their all.
Dylan Knight of Beulah, N.D. won her first state title. She took home the girls’ breakaway roping championship on her horse, Sweet Pea. State championships are not new Dylan’s world. Both her mom, Kelli, and dad, Shawn, hold state championship rodeo titles, as do both sets of her grandparents. In fact, Sweet Pea is a half sister to Dylan’s dad’s bay horse, Maggie, that was 2021 NDRA Senior Men’s breakaway horse of the year. Both go back to Paddy’s Irish Whiskey.
“The finals were a little stressful, but so cool at the end of it to keep state titles alive in our family,’’ said Dylan, “My calves were just right there, so I kept taking my shots.”
“As far as nationals, I’m just going to shoot for the top 20 and will be working on another young horse my family, and I will season and hope to win some more on it in the future,” added Dylan.
The cowgirl didn’t just catch three calves consistently in the low three second range to win the title, but she is also an exceptional hoopster on the basketball court. “I play for the Beulah Miners, and our team has been undefeated for two years. We have even moved up to playing C-squad as 7th graders,” added Dylan.
Another first was a state title for Bismarck roper, Breece Oakland, an 8th grader who was left a little speechless.
To execute the state championship in team roping as a header and state championship in the boys breakaway roping, Breece said that he simply just went out and did his job. “I purposely brought my mare, Chloe, because she doesn’t give me any time to think or get nervous. I needed to put all my energy into staying calm for her. That’s the only way she works,” said Breece.
When Breece isn’t swinging a rope, the young cowboy leads, guides, and helps riders with physical and developmental disabilities at TR 4 Heart & Soul, a therapeutic riding center based outside of Bismarck that his family established.
Zoey Wagoner, 8th grader of Arnegard, N.D. was named the All-around Cowgirl Champion, as well as the state champion barrel racer, reserve champion in pole bending, champion in ribbon roping, and is going to nationals in the breakaway roping and goat tying as well.
Zoey got started in horses and rodeos because of her mom and dad, Andy and Annalisa Wagoner. “The first horse I had was a one-eyed pony named ‘Shony’ that I did everything on. Later, I went to a Judy Myllymaki barrel racing clinic, and she told my mom that I needed a step-up horse. ‘Lil Joe’ was my mom’s horse, so we tried him,” said Zoey, “It didn’t go so well at first, he took off with me. We tried again, and he slowed down to me and we built together. It wasn’t perfect at first.”
‘Lil Joe Whiz’ and Zoey ran a 19.734 second pole bending run at the finals making it the fastest pole bending time of the weekend. “That pole bending run was probably the best memory I have of rodeo and horses. I just love being with horses every day, whether it’s starting another barrel horse named ‘Animal’ on the barrels to team roping and roping calves,” said Zoey.
Lil Joe Whiz is a 15-year-old gelding by ‘Gee Whiz It Shines’ crossed on the mare, ‘Pocket Fulla Tricks’ and was awarded Horse of the Year. Zoey said she plans on rodeoing professionally and having a career where ‘animal involvement’ is a must.
The girls’ Rookie of the Year went to Watford City cowgirl, Cassidy Hutchison. This was the 5th grader’s first year in North Dakota Junior High Rodeo. She also was the Reserve Champion Girls All-Around Cowgirl. She is heading to nationals, following in her family’s footsteps, but making her own hoofprints as she gallops away to the ‘Peach State’ this summer.
Boys’ Rookie of the Year went to Kanon Sperry of Beach, N.D. Coming from a family of tie-down ropers and home-raised horses, this cowboy has a bright future in the arena and the wrestling mat.
“It’s always a fast-paced weekend, and we try to keep the rodeo weekend short enough, so graduations can be attended as well,” said Cori Hilzendeger, Secretary for NDJHSR. “We have a very talented and tough set of competitors.”
Kenzley Hausauer, 6th grade junior high rodeo competitor of Halliday, N.D. had this to say, “This junior high rodeo season, I learned with seasoning a horse you have to be patient in the seasoning process and not rush it. Smooth is fast, and there was value in finding consistency in clean runs before I went faster. Still so humbling, but what an amazing experience. I am also so thankful for my mom who hauls me to the rodeos and challenges me to compete against myself and nobody else and to always put my horse’s well-being above the competition.”
North Dakota’s youth athletes, their horses, the supporters, parents, committee/board members, and sponsors are all deserving of a ‘first place’ buckle for their dedication and try for the great sport of rodeo.
For a complete list of results, visit ndjhrd.com.
Tisa Peek is a long time horse trainer, competitor in barrel racing and team roping, and writer about the equine. Rodeo and horses run deep in her roots. JT Family Equine is where she calls home, south of Bismarck, ND. Tisa, along with her husband, Jon, and boys, Blu and River, train horses, host horse camps for youth, and provide riding lessons.