Bonds formed will last long after the U.S. and Canadian National High School Finals Rodeos are over, but this group, which has a family feel, will never take this form again.
Students, most with relationships reared since Little Britches, will go their separate ways, some off to college together in Alberta, while others eye schools down south.
Riley Anness, Justin Mitchell, Carson Payton, Carson Weaver, Kash Sigouin, Taylor Gyger, Ryan-Spur Reid, Lincoln Yarama and Justin Weaver make up the group of Kamloops-and-area students heading to the National High School Finals Rodeo, which begins this weekend in Rock Springs, Wyo.
“I’ve grown up with these kids, going to rodeos all over,” said Grade 11 Barriere secondary student Kash Sigouin, a piano-playing cowboy ready for a fourth go-round at U.S. nationals.
“To be able to go down to nationals and compete with them and against them, it’s an amazing, amazing experience.”
Sigouin, who grew up on a 3,000-acre ranch, will be team roping at nationals with his great buddy Carson Payton, a Grade 11 student at Valleyview secondary.
“We’ve been best friends forever. It’s just another day. We always rope,” said Payton, who seemed chuffed to report he nearly severed his wrist in a rodeo incident a few years back.
“I can look at him and tell if he’s stressed out or thinking about it too much and that’s when I’ll go talk to him more and start joking around and make fun of him for something.
“Then, he’ll make fun of me for something. That’s how we calm each other down.”
Riley Anness and Taylor Gyger entered the 2018-2019 B.C. High School Rodeo Association season knowing it was their last chance to qualify for high school nationals, both in search of their first trip to the big dance.
Anness did not waltz through the front door with a top-four finish in B.C., but performed well enough in pole bending to get the call when a top-four competitor declined the invite to nationals.
She doesn’t really give a rip how she got there — she’s there, set to compete under bright lights, in front of big crowds, and that’s what matters.
“I’ve always wanted to go and it’s always been something I’ve had as a goal,” said Anness, a Valleyview secondary grad.
“In the past, it’s been a lot of pressure I’ve put onto myself and I end up cracking under the pressure. This year, I was like, you know what, let’s just be laid back, focus on our runs and go do our thing. It worked out.”
Gyger peered through a door and listened in on Anness’ interview.
“Taylor — don’t make that face,” Anness said before breaking into laughter.
More razzing appears to be on the horizon, as Anness would like to attend Olds College, along with Lincoln Yarama, the Chase secondary graduate and former Canadian high school rodeo champion, and his girlfriend, Gyger.
“I’ve been rodeoing with them since I first started,” said Yarama, who has qualified for U.S. nationals each year since Grade 6. “We’re all pretty much a big family.”
Yarama will be busy in Wyoming, having qualified for three events — tie-down roping, team roping and steer wrestling.
Horse Wally, Yarama’s pal for the past eight years, will be making the trip.
“He’ll be the one waking you up if he doesn’t have food,” Yarama said, noting calf roping is his favourite event. “He’ll just be screaming, pawing around right outside my window until I wake up and go out there and feed him.
“You rope in B.C. all year and it’s OK. Then you go down south and you really get to rope against the best people in the world.”
Gyger, who will compete in reined cow horse, was now in the hot seat and feeling Anness’ glare while speaking to KTW.
“Riley was my first friend at high school rodeo, so she’s kind of my favourite,” said Gyger, a NorKam secondary graduate. “And I’m close with all the other people, too.
“I just want clean runs. I like to ride horses. I like to go fast.”
Wyatt Reid, Elly Farmer and Jordan Lepine are expected to join the Kamloops-and-area group to make 12 heading to the Canadian high school finals, which will run from July 26 to July 28 in Merritt.
Lessons in culture are part of the allure of the trip to Wyoming, with about 1,500 contestants expected from 43 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico.
Nine from this area will contribute to the melting pot.
“This is special because it’s the cream of the crop,” Sigouin said. “It’s the best in the world. To be able to compete and winning and showing your stuff, it’s a life-changing experience.”
Anness is glad she’ll be drinking it all in with this rodeo family, which appears to be in the twilight of high-school halcyon days.
“It sinks in that it’s pretty neat,” she said. “It means a lot to me.”
“I’m sure I’ll be running into these people down the road.”