Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

8 Tri-County Club members qualify for NHSFR

Eight members of the Tri-County Club have qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held July 15-21 in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

In addition to Buckner and Buchanan, local qualifiers include Culver sophomore Coy Aldrich and Redmond freshman Caleb Carpenter, who were reserve champions in team roping. Aldrich, who will be going to nationals for the second time, also qualified as the fourth-place finisher in boys cutting and the reserve champion in reined cow horse. Hope Luttrell, a senior and Prineville resident, took fourth in barrel racing to qualify for the third time. Senior Pacer Quite of Prineville qualified for the NHSFR for the first time by winning bareback riding. Indigo Sappington, a ­Ridgeview senior, qualified with a fourth-place finish in team roping. His partner, T.C. Hammack, is from Chiloquin. Madras senior Joseph Scott III qualified for the national rodeo for the fourth year in a row by taking second in saddle bronc riding.

POWELL BUTTE — Chase Buchanan says he always wanted to be like his uncle Brian Bain, a professional bareback rider who has twice qualified for the National Finals Rodeo.

But his uncle had a different idea.

“My uncle kind of led me away from bareback riding, because it’s really hard on your body,” Buchanan, a 17-year-old student at Culver High School, explained.

Bull riding did not suit ­Buchanan, either.

“I didn’t enjoy the event,” Buchanan said of bull riding. “They have horns, and they’re scary.”

So saddle bronc riding it was.

Kennedy Buckner says she always wanted to be an all-around winner, ever since she was a little cowgirl.

“To win the all-around, you have to be a girl that does every event,” Buckner said.

So that was her game plan heading into her freshman year at Crook County High School: Show up ready to compete in every event. It just paid off a little faster than she expected.

Buckner won the Oregon High School Rodeo Association girls all-around title this past spring in addition to the state pole bending championship and girls rookie of the year, and ­Buchanan won the state saddle bronc riding championship. The teenagers, who are neighbors in Powell Butte, are two of the eight Tri-County Club members who qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held July 15-21 in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

“I was shocked that I won all-around, because of how many competitive girls there were this year,” Buckner said. “My good friend Samantha (Kerns), she took reserve champion, and she’s a senior. I never thought that I’d do it in my freshman year, but that was a goal.”

The Tri-County Club, which includes high school rodeo competitors from Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, is different from most athletic clubs. There are not regular practices when the whole team meets, nor is there a formal coach. But Buckner and Buchanan said that it still feels very much like a team when they are together at a rodeo. The Oregon high school season starts in February and picks up in March, with seven two-round events held throughout the state followed by the circuit finals rodeo, which this year was held in Prineville in June.

“It feels more like a family than a team,” Buchanan said. “It’s not like you’re competing against them. You’re competing against your stock, so everyone’s helping everyone. You’ll see a guy get on a bucking horse and have the best score in the pen, and then go back and help someone else.”

With no official coaches, Buckner said kids often rely on one another to help them improve.

“If you’re practicing at your house, and you need someone to practice with you, you call your friend,” Buckner said. “Like I’d call Chase, and he’d come rope with me. You can get help. And if I’m struggling with a particular event, and I know that someone in the Tri-County Club is doing really well in it, call them and they’ll come help you. No one’s ever trying to set you up for failure.”

Buchanan, who is entering his senior year, said his saddle bronc riding has improved drastically since his freshman year, when he was still new to the event. He failed to make it to the state finals in bronc riding during his first year in high school, but finished second as a sophomore. This year, he won with 156 points accumulated over the course of the season, beating second-place Daylon Eng by 46 points.

“Just getting on my horses, riding more and more, helps you get your timing with the horse,” said Buchanan, whose family raises bucking horses used in high school and amateur rodeos across the state. “The first 50 horses I ever got on, everything would just go black, because it was going so fast, and I wasn’t seeing anything until I hit the dirt. And then everything started slowing down, getting easier, starting to click.”

Buckner is used to juggling events: She competed in pole bending, barrel racing, goat tying, breakaway roping, team roping and cutting during rodeo season, while playing volleyball and basketball and doing the high jump, long jump and triple jump for the Crook County track team.

“When I started doing track, I had a lot of help from my parents,” Buckner said. “They helped me a lot. If I wasn’t going to be home, my horse would still get exercised. Or you just kind of had to push through it, even if you’re tired after track practice. Even if you’re tired you have to push through it. You have to go outside and make sure your horses get rode and make sure it all gets done.”

Although Buckner won the pole bending title, she said her favorite rodeo event would probably be goat tying, in which she took third.

“I won the state in pole bending, so I would say that’s probably one of my better events, but that’s mostly my horse,” Buckner said, referring to her pole bending horse, Willie. “I can hardly take credit for that. But I would say goat tying is probably my favorite event. You have to go so fast that you don’t even know what’s happening. You have to let it all hang out.”

Buchanan said he expects the competition will be even tougher at the NHSFR — and not just from the other contestants, although there will be 1,650 cowboys and cowgirls competing.

“We have a pen of high school horses that aren’t real, real bucky horses,” Buchanan explained. “They’re good old hopping practice horses that are perfect for high school kids learning on. But once you go nationals, they turn up the heat and bring the rank stuff.”

Buckner is setting her sights high: She has finished as high as second in goat tying at national rodeos for middle schoolers, and she wants to replicate that success at the high school level.

“Rodeo’s all on you,” Buckner said. “You have to be self-disciplined, and I think that’s what makes it such a big part of your life. You have to rely on yourself a lot, and your family helps you out. And I think that’s why this is one of your top priorities, because you have to take care of your animals. You have to go out and practice and take care of it all on your own.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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