Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

“The Central Coast has some of the best High School team ropers in all of California,” exclaimed Emily Mangione, a recent Nipomo High School graduate who now attends a local Jr. College. “And a few High School Rodeo riders are in the top 20 in Pro rankings, which is an incentive for people to watch High School Rodeo. These riders are making a name for themselves already.”

Emily Mangione – High School Rodeo Pole Bending

Emily participated in National High School Rodeo Association (NHRA) throughout her High School career starting in 8th Grade. “I don’t come from a ranching background,” she explained. “My parents have nothing to do with horses. I always wanted to ride and started taking riding lessons when I was little and living in Southern California. I spent a summer with some friends at their ranch and they suggested I try High School Rodeo.” This is how Emily got her start, and this past summer, she qualified for and competed in Pole Bending at the 2015 National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyoming July 12-18.

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

Emily and Cash going around the last pole in a Pole Bending event.

Pole Bending is a speed event which has a horse and rider pair weaving through six poles 21 feet apart and back in the fastest time. It requires not just a speedy horse but an agile one too. Emily’s horse, “Cash”, fits the bill. Unfortunately, Emily got a tough draw slot at the Nationals with Wednesday/Wednesday slots which meant she had two runs in one day. She hit a pole down in the second run which gave her a +5 second penalty. Although disappointing, Emily was honored to qualify for and compete at the Nationals and share in the experience with her friends.

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

Emily and Cash weave through the poles on their way home on a run.

Qualifying for Nationals

Qualifying for the Nationals is a long road. Contestants participate in approximately 10 – 12 Rodeos in their District (there are nine Districts in California) over the school year, gathering points to qualify. The top five competitors (points) in each event compete at the State Finals, which is held in June. The top four places in each event at State qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held in Gillette, Wyoming for 2016. The first district Rodeo for the 2015/16 school year for Central Coast students will be held in Parkfield on September 19th -20th.

“A lot of the kids do as many of the Rodeo events as possible and most go off to college and continue to do rodeo in college,” explained Emily, and since she has graduated from High School she is now focusing on Barrel Racing, as Pole Bending is not a College Rodeo sport. This keeps her involved in Rodeo, and she is glad that her Jr. College has a Rodeo program, even if it is only in its second year.

Currently, Emily maintains three horses. Two are finished and one is young and in training. “About half of the kids ride already trained horses and the other half, especially those from a ranching background, train their own horses,” remarked Emily. “We are a tight-knit group. Rodeo is so different from other High School team sports that just happen over a season. We’re together all year. It’s really cool to watch the hard work pay off. We stick together.”

Cayden Cox – High School Rodeo Team Roping

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

Cayden and Cliffy roping the heel.

Speaking of kids from a ranching background, Emily’s High School Rodeo teammate Cayden Cox has a different story. Cayden participates in Team Roping, where a team of two riders captures the head and heel of a calf in the shortest time possible. Cayden is a “heeler” which means he is in charge of capturing the heel of the calf, which of course is running and turning while the heeler is throwing the rope at the calf’s heels. “I try not to think about how I’m going to do it. I rely on muscle memory. I practice for that moment.”

“I could rope before I could crawl,” Cayden said dryly. “I’ve been roping my whole life.” After winning the 2015 state Team Roping Championship, Cayden and his teammate also competed at the National High School Finals Rodeo this past summer. Their first round posted a time of 6.2 seconds which placed them 4th in the Nation. “We drew a really fast steer for the second round,” explained Cayden. Unfortunately the head was missed on the second run and they were knocked out of the competition. “But that’s part of team roping. We go in as a team and finish as a team.”

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

Cayden and his team mate get ready to take on a calf.

Cayden is quite accomplished for being in his second year of High School and has a list of sponsors who help support his Rodeo activities. He is one of the younger students to compete in a National High School Finals Rodeo.

Living on the ranch means that he has responsibilities there on top of school, practice, training and competing. When asked to describe his typical day, Cayden responded with, “Every day for me is wake up with the rooster and feed my team mates (horses). Then I get ready for school. After school, I practice calf roping and team roping. After that I ride my young horses in training, followed by riding young horses that people send me to ride. Then I feed ‘um all again and finish homework. I believe school is very important. I then head to bed and start again the next day. I also go and check cows and attend to ranch work throughout the week when I can fit it in.”

Cayden and Cliffy

“Horses are amazing athletes,” exclaimed Cayden. He’s around quite a few as his family starts many young horses and trains them up through competition. His special partner is a little grey, ten-year-old, Dollar Bar Quarter Horse called, “Cliffy”. “Everybody knows him. He’s the bomb. He was born on our ranch and was an orphaned foal as his mom abandoned him. We bottle fed him and raised him just like my mom did for us. I grew up with him.”

Learning Team Work and Responsibility in High School Rodeo | SLO Horse News

Cayden and “Cliffy” who is the bomb.

Yes, Cayden is one busy young man and his reply to that definition is, “I try to be! But it’s not work for me it’s a passion!” Cayden has his eye on Pro Rodeo for his near future, and may soon join his brother on the Pro circuit. “It’s what I dream about. I want to win a World title.”


High School Rodeo riders experience hard work, team work, and take on responsibility which will launch them into a productive and reliable adulthood. High School Rodeo is another great avenue where horses are key to developing humans.

Cayden gives a shout out to his amazing sponsors: Resistol Cowboy Hats, Cactus Ropes, 4 Flat Tack, and CSI Saddle Pads.

Main image: Cayden Cox and Zach Varian 2015 California State Team Roping Champions


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Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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