“Well, it’s the bulls and blood, it’s the dust and mud, it’s the roar of a Sunday crowd,” says the familiar Garth Brook’s tune, which concludes with, “and they call the thing rodeo.”
Rodeo is in the blood of two local teens who recently journeyed to Gilette, Wyoming for the National High School Finals Rodeo. Kathryn Varian of Parkfield and Taite Stickler of San Luis Obispo both come from rodeo “stock”. Their families continue to live the rodeo life, and as Kathryn says,
“Rodeo is my whole life. It’s a family tradition.”
California High School Rodeo Association
California is divided into districts for competing under the California High School Rodeo Association (CHSRA) umbrella. CHSRA District 7 is where our local rodeo stars compete. District 7 covers San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Points are earned by participants in each rodeo event they compete in throughout the school year from nine district rodeos. The top 5 competitors in each event automatically qualify to compete at the State Championship held in Bishop, CA in June. The Top 4 at the State level go on to the Nationals, held about a month later.
The Upward Climb to the National High School Rodeo Finals
Kathryn qualified for Nationals in Pole Bending, riding her 22 year-old, home-bred mare, Mizzy, by placing 2nd at the State level. “I’ve been riding Mizzy for 6 years. She is incredible; I’m just the jockey,” expressed Kathryn, when asked about her mount. Kathryn says, “Mizzy has always done Pole Bending. I’ve also done barrels, goat tying, and breakaway roping.”
Taite was the top Steer Wrestler at the state level and was 5th place in Cutting. “I was in 5th place in the Cutting event by only ½ a point. The 4th place finisher couldn’t go to Nationals so I got his spot,” explained Taite, as he described his upward climb to get to the Nationals in both events. “I used my horse Sydney for the District 7 Rodeos for ‘bull dogging’ (Steer Wrestling) and borrowed the Major’s horse Rocket for the State and National competitions. I rode my cutting horse Dove for the State competition and borrowed Rosie for the Nationals from the Hall family in Oklahoma.”
When Kathryn first started riding Mizzy she was a bit afraid of her, “She’s a fire breathing dragon,” Kathryn described. “I know she knows what she is doing. I just stay out of her way. I need to trust her. She just gets excited about her job.”
Mizzy and Kathryn ran some of their fastest times at Nationals – 20.3 seconds and 20.4 seconds. Everybody has two rides, then the top 20 times come back for the “short go”. “We ran a 20.1 in the short go but we hit a pole, (knocked it over) so 5 seconds was added to the time. We would have placed 3rd, but instead we placed in the top 20,” Kathryn explained. There were 190 girls competing in Pole Bending so placing 20th is still something to be proud of.
Bull Dogging, aka Steer Wrestling, is an exciting event, and Taite has been competing in this event since his sophomore year. The steer starts in a chute with the horse and rider in the box. The steer is released and gets a head start then horse and rider run up beside the steer. The rider leaps on to the steer from the galloping horse and brings it down.
Taite got both of his steers at Nationals down, but as he explains, “I had tough luck on my draws and took too long on my times.” He finished about 27th overall. Taite went on to explain the luck of the draw, “They should have a good set of steers at the Nationals, but you’ll always have some that run off, some that stop and some that are just alright. If you get a steer that stops it’s like riding in a car at 35 mph, hanging out the window, jumping out and grabbing a mailbox!”
“We have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to drive one cow up through a herd of 20-30 cows (the number depends upon the number of entries in the event). We’re judged on how the horse looks and how we control the cow. It’s a subjective event judged mainly on the horse not the rider, yet the rider is influencing the horse. Some horses are more instinctively “cowy”. Once you lock onto your cow the horse knows what to do,” Taite said, as he explained how the Cutting event is judged. Taite was called back for the short go and placed 13 overall in the Cutting event at the Nationals.
Kathryn on Setting a Pattern in Pole Bending
“You want to go straight through the poles. You get in a pattern; it’s like a dance. If we start a little off-pattern we’ll stay off and it messes up the ride. It can’t be fixed; You just have to ride it out. At the Nationals the pole went down super slow then we had to go around it on our way back down. We still posted a fast time though – then had the 5 seconds added,” said Kathryn, when talking about how to get the best time through the poles.
Taite on Learning to Bull Dog
“The majority of the time we are practicing live. Sometimes we do use a horse saver and a steer saver; basically using a metal horse and metal steer where we reenact the event. I often practice off a galloping horse,” expressed Taite. “When I first started we went slowly through the movements and practiced bending the knee and getting ‘in the hole’. There are lots of different ways to learn how to get off the horse. Sometimes hay bales are used,” explained Taite, when asked how he learned to leap from a horse onto a steer. He then added, “There’s nothing else like it. It’s very exciting,”
Life in a Rodeo Family
Both Kathryn and Taite have responsibilities at home on top of their school work. Taite, who is part of the horse training Stickler family, just graduated from San Luis Obispo High and will attend Cuesta in the Fall and ride on their Rodeo team. Taite keeps four horses going at home. “It’s horses and rodeo 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he says. Taite feeds, cleans, grooms and rides his horses and those his family is working with. “I feed the horses before school, clean and exercise them when I come home, then feed again. I was good at getting my school work done at school,” says Taite, when asked how he manages his time, he added, “My mom says to take better care of your horse than you do of yourself.”
The Varian family runs V6 Ranch in Parkfield. Kathryn is part of the trail ride crew and helps with the cooking when groups come to stay. “It’s really fun,” says Kathryn, “I get to meet thousands of people with random and awesome lives. I met this lady who came on a ride when I was five. She is a repeat customer and now I’m going to be in her wedding here on our ranch!”
Kathryn is going into her Senior year at Paso Robles High School where she will be the Managing Editor of the school’s award-winning news magazine. Check it out at Crimson News Magazine. She has her sights on attending Cal Poly and riding for their Rodeo team. Mizzy will be retired after Kathryn’s senior year and as Kathryn can attest to, “She’s had a good, long competitive life.”