Annie Alexander and Taylor Harris, both of Florence, will be making the trek to Rock Springs, Wyoming, for the National High School Rodeo Finals next week. The event will feature more than 1,500 cowgirls and cowboys from 43 states, including Hawaii; five Canadian provinces, Australia, and Mexico. There are approximately 12,500 members in the association. The finals feature two go-arounds a day for six days with the top 20 coming back in the short go.
In addition to the regular rodeo events, there is cow cutting and reined cow horse for both boys and girls, goat tying for the girls, and a queen contest. There is also a light rifle shooting competition. In lieu of money, the contestants win scholarships, plus trophy belt buckles and saddles.
Annie Alexander will be a junior this year at Florence. She is the daughter of Sheryl and Tom Alexander. In addition to rodeo, she is also on the varsity golf team at Florence and qualified for the state golf tournament in both her freshman and sophomore years. She said it is a nice change from the hectic activity at a rodeo.
Alexander has been riding as long as she can remember. She began competing when she was very little and her mother would lead her around the barrels at gymkhanas.
“I never liked to go very fast but one day I just decided I was done going slow,” she said. “One day, I decided I wanted to win.”
That was in 2016 and she set about training her horse to make her more competitive as well as learning how to ride better to get her horse to perform better. Alexander feels that each stage of her riding life has been a building block and these are all coming together this year. In addition to gymkhanas, she also competed in the Ravalli County Junior Rodeo series each summer and was the all around girls champion last year.
Alexander said her trip to Nationals is a “Cinderella story.” The rodeo season begins in August and runs until the first of October and then takes a break for winter. It ramps back up in March and runs until the end of May. Points are accrued for each win or top placing in the rodeos. Once the contestants have reached 70 points in an event, the points are frozen. Then, at the state finals, more points can be won with the top four point winners in each event advancing on. It’s difficult to make up points at state if you don’t already have 70 points going into the rodeo.
But Alexander did make up the points. She went into the state finals with 53 points. In addition, she was on a new horse, Coco. Although the two hadn’t had much of a chance to build a relationship, Alexander felt that she and the horse made that connection. They came in second place in the first go, won the short go, and took second in the average. That was good enough for a fourth place overall finish and a trip to Nationals.
Alexander had an opportunity last winter to compete at Copper Springs Ranch outside of Bozeman in barrel racing and break away roping. This was a qualifier for the American, which is a huge rodeo held at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in March. It is a tournament-style competition where the competitors must move up the ladder and win at each level. Alexander went to Fort Worth for the next level of qualifications and actually ended up in the top 75 barrel racers and the top 50 break away ropers. She thinks that this tough competition last winter helped her throughout the spring and will help at the finals.
Alexander gives a lot of credit to a few people who have helped her along the way. Michelle Gerhard and Randy Sacks have helped her with roping and Donna Toavs has helped train her barrel horses and improved her horsemanship skills.
Alexander will compete in the first performance on Sunday night and then have the rest of the week to relax, settle in and do some more training before competing again the following Saturday morning. Her plan is to come back Saturday night in the short go with a buckle in her sights.
Taylor Harris is the son of Monty and Julie Harris. He is a 2019 graduate of Florence High School. He will be competing at the finals in team roping where he is the heeler for Nathan Ruth from Big Timber. The duo finished fourth at the state finals in team roping.
Harris grew up in a rodeo family and was roping by the time he was eight years old. He credits Steve Edwards of Florence and Kory Mytty of Lolo for helping him become the roper he is today. In fact, Mytty, who is the University of Montana rodeo coach, signed Harris to rodeo for the University of Montana rodeo team this fall. He plans on studying heavy equipment operations at Missoula Tech.
Harris said J-Bob Lytle of Cut Bank and Jay Hahnkamp of Melrose, along with Randy Sacks, have all helped him tremendously while on the road. He is competing in the Northern Rodeo Association this year. When he was an eighth grader, he competed in the junior NRA events and made the finals in the break away.