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Rodeo Belle — Local teenager qualifies for the National Junior High Finals

Most toddlers are satisfied riding on the back of a rocking horse, but Makenzie Richardson has been riding real, live horses since age 2.

“It’s what I love,” said the now 14-year-old.

Richardson was recently named number two in the state in barrel racing and pole bending and number four in goat tying and ribbon roping. This honor qualified her for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Gallup, New Mexico. The annual top four in the state get to advance to the competition. Points are kept all year long from each competition and are tallied up at the state finals year-end.

Richardson and her family made the 20-hour drive to Gallup, where about 970 kids were to compete.

Richardson said her nerves got the best of her in the first round.

“As soon as they called my name, I walked in the keyhole, and it was crazy. There were thousands of people out there. My horse kind of got freaked out, too,” she said.

But the second round, she was ready.

“My horse had already been in the arena, and I had already been in the arena, so I kind of knew what to expect.”

Richardson was awarded fifth place in pole bending in the second round out of about 150 competitors.

The soon-to-be ninth grader at Brookhaven Academy has been competing since age 3. Her entire family also competes, including her parents, Mike and Leigh Ann Richardson, and brother, Dakota.

“I guess we were kind of just born into it,” said Richardson.

Her favorite event is barrel racing, her very first rodeo event.

“She’s always competed – always been competitive,” said her mother, Leigh Ann.

Richardson won about $800 this year in various competitions.

“You’re really not doing it for the money – you’re doing it for the title,” she said.

She practices every day for about an hour on each horse, riding three horses a practice. Her family has 11 horses total, with her favorite being Gunner, her 24-year-old team roping horse.

“Rodeo comes first,” she said. “I usually go to school, then ride until about 9.”

Richardson said doing rodeo can be a challenge because she doesn’t get to spend much time with friends. “It tough, but it’s worth it in the end.”

Her mother mirrored Richardson’s statement. “People that don’t have competitive horses don’t have any idea – it’s a job. It’s work.”

Richardson dreams of qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo, the best 15 in the world. This year, she will move up to High School Rodeo.

“I give all the glory to God for everything – for getting me where I am – and my parents, definitely,” she said.