The key to doing well at the National High School Rodeo Finals is simple for Travis Darling.
"I'm just hoping to stay on and score high," Darling said.
This month, the former Steamboat Springs resident will test his skill and knowledge about horses against some of the top stock during the finals in Gillette, Wyo.
Darling grew up in Routt County attending Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School before moving to Ignacio to live with his father last year.
Darling was an accomplished wrestler while living in Steamboat and has grown up around horses.
"I've been around horses my entire life," Darling said. "My dad trains cutting horses."
This year, Darling joined the Basin High School Rodeo team, which is based in the Durango area, and he qualified for the saddle bronc and cutting events.
"We are all really excited for Travis and the other contestants from Northwest Colorado who qualified," said Jon Hawes, the Steamboat Springs High School Rodeo Club's adviser. "To make it to the nationals, an athlete must be one of the top four in the state in their event. It's a pretty tough deal."
Darling, who started riding broncos two years ago, competed with the Steamboat club before moving away.
He is one of the state's best in the rough stock event, but he's not bad on the back of a cutting horse, either.
"I prefer to ride saddle broncs," Darling said. "But I think I will make my living raising cutting horses after high school."
The 1,500 contestants in this year's finals will come from 40 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia to compete from July 18 to 24.
The contestants are competing for $125,000 in prizes and more than $225,000 in college scholarships.
"It's huge," Darling said. "The contestants come from all over the world for this one, and the competition is tough."
Darling will not be the only competitor with ties to North--western Colorado.
Craig's Becky White also qualified in pole bending, and Kremmling's Skylar Hill qualified in poles and barrels.
Moffat County's Tia Brennan and Kendel Fawcett just missed the cut during the state meet in June.
Unfortunately, the Steamboat Springs High School Rodeo Club is currently made up of one member, Kylie Hawes.
But her father, Jon, said several young athletes are on the horizon and that the local rodeo athletes are happy to see contestants coming from places such as Craig and Kremmling.
He said the rodeo athletes are supportive of one another and that the Steamboat club is thrilled for all the athletes from this area who qualified for nationals.
The high school rodeo season is split, with four rodeos in the fall and 10 in late spring and early summer.
Most athletes set their goals on the state championships, which were held from June 23 to 26 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Athletes who are ranked in the top four based on overall points are asked to compete in the national high school finals each year.
-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org