When the top junior high rodeo contestants in the country gather in New Mexico next month, Steamboat Springs barrel racer Kacey Bull will be there.
"This is my passion, my dream," Bull said. "Someday, I want to make it to the National Finals Rodeo."
If this summer is any indication, the Steamboat Springs Middle School eighth-grader is on the right track.
She recently was named to the Wrangler Junior High Rodeo team and will travel to Gallup, N.M., July 5 to 8 for the first Junior High National Finals Rodeo.
The event, which will draw 700 contestants from 29 states and one Canadian province, is modeled after the popular national high school finals.
The older high school athletes will travel to Gillette, Wyo., from July 18 to 24 for that long-running event.
Bull earned a position on the junior high team because of her results from five rodeos earlier this year. Her points earned her a position on the team and a chance at what's expected to become another prestigious junior rodeo.
She started competing in April and recently learned that she was named to the team.
"Rodeo is my life," Bull said. "It's just what I love to do."
Bull started riding horses when she was 2, but her older sister introduced her to barrels just three years ago.
"I love the adrenaline rush I get from it," Bull said.
Although piloting a horse around a set of three barrels set up in a clover leaf pattern is a thrill, Bull said it also comes with a price.
Bull spends hours each week riding her horse to develop the skills necessary to race. She also must take care of the animals on her family's Elk River ranch and spent last summer working at the Dutch Creek Guest Ranch to raise money to pay for contest entry fees.
But Bull's focus remains firmly planted in the rodeo arena and on improving her speed around the barrels.
"It takes a lot of time to develop a good relationship with your horse, and that's the key to barrel racing," Bull said. "You have to trust your horse and know that he will take care of you."
She said it also is important for the rider to take care of his or her horse so that the animal will develop that same trust in its owner.
Bull is working to build that trust with the horse she started riding in December.
The two formed an almost immediate relationship, but Bull said she must work everyday to make it stronger.
This summer, Bull will be hoping that her skills, the horse's speed and the newly-formed relationships will help her place well at the Junior High Finals Rodeo in July and several other top rodeos she plans to attend.
The junior high rodeo will offer athletes a chance to win $75,000 in prizes and more than $50,000 in college scholarships.
Bull also is entered in the National Barrel Horse Association Youth Worlds in Mississippi at the end of July.
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