WINCHESTER, KY. (FOX 56) — Kentucky is often referred to as “Horse Country,” but for many, rodeo does not immediately come to mind, at least for now.
In less than one week, Lana Mitchell, 15, and Emma Jones, 18, are riding to Gillette, Wyoming to compete in the 2022 National High School Finals Rodeo. They are students at George Rogers Clark High School, looking to shine a spotlight on the sport. However, they are not just trying to win. The pair want to show Kentucky more of the “cowgirl culture.”
“When I get in the arena, that’s when all my nerves go,” said Mitchell. “I’m here to do my best.”
Mitchell grew up around horses but only started rodeo this year. Jones roped her into the sport.
“I ask her a lot of questions. Like, does this look fine? Is this the right thing?” said Mitchell.
From July 17 to 23, the duo will compete against some of the sport’s greatest teenagers. Only the four best females in each event from every state get to go to the National High School Finals Rodeo. Jones is the state’s current high school girl’s cutting and reigning champion, while Mitchell is the most recent reserve champion in those events. Both disciplines showcase their skills to handle cattle.
“It would be nice to win, but I know that is not going to happen,” said Jones. “There are many more experienced people in the industry. It’s not big around here. Lana and I are pretty much the only people who compete in cutting and reined cow horse.”
Proudly attached to Jones’ belt is her 2022 reining cow horse championship buckle. Jones also recently won the National Spirit Award for the state of Kentucky. It’s given to the rider with the best attitude each year. So, no matter how good or bad Jones’ event went, she always had a smile on her face.
“It’s an honor to be able to wear this,” Jones. “I think I could get the sport more well-known if people saw it and asked about it.”
The pair say one reason rodeo is not as popular in central and eastern Kentucky is due to the horse breed they ride. Mitchell and Jones compete with American Quarter Horses, while most people own Thoroughbreds. They say more riders are starting to compete in pole bending and barrel racing with Thoroughbreds and think this change will bring more attention to rodeo.
Mitchell and Jones want to stay in the saddle as long as possible. In a few years, Mitchell wants to rodeo in college.
Beginning this fall, Jones is studying equine at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
The pair hopes the sport booms someday in the Bluegrass.