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Northwest Salmon




Andover teen qualifies for National

Finals High School Rodeo

by Amanda Fanger

To National High School Finals Rodeo qualifier Kate Helmer, rodeo is still just a sport. But depending on how well she likes participating at the world’s largest high school rodeo next month, the experience may alter the direction of the Andover teen’s life.

The 17-year-old, 2017 graduate of Groton High School placed second in breakaway roping at the South Dakota High School Rodeo Finals in Belle Fourche last week. She is now one of five who will go to the national rodeo in Gillette, WY July 16-22.

“I’m still letting this sink in a little bit,” she said. “It’s quite an accomplishment to be one of the top (rodeo athletes) in the state to get to go to Nationals. I’m going to have to buckle down on my practicing. There’s always things you have to be working on, trying to perfect each day and stay consistent.”

Breakaway roping is a timed event that starts out when a calf is released from a chute with a horse and rider in pursuit from an area immediately next to the chute. The timer starts when the rider and horse break the barrier, a rope that is strung across the front of the “box.” Once the rider and horse have begun pursuit, the rider’s job is to lasso the young bovine around the neck. Once a loop has found its mark, the rider reins the horse to a stop, allowing the rope to go taut. Since the end of the lariat is tied to the horn of the saddle by a light string, when the slack is taken out of the rope, that string will break, thus the name of the event. The timer stops when the string has broken.

In the world of high school rodeo, the scoring is based on an accumulation of points earned over the course of the season. Going into state, Helmer had 19 points which she earned through participating in all four east region rodeos. At least eight points are needed to qualify for state. Helmer came away from the state contest with a total of 59. She beat out third place by nine points and fell behind the first place winner by 20 points. Sawyer Gilbert, Buffalo took first.

A rodeo has two “go-rounds” per event. After points are tallied from those two rounds, the top 15 competitors in each event make it to what’s called the “short-go.” Helmer has not only made it to the short-go at state but her time during that run was the fastest of the weekend at 2.2 seconds.

“You have to time it. You can’t be too early, but you can’t be late,” she said. “You’ve got to really concentrate, watch the calf out and lead just right. My biggest struggle is breaking the barrier,” Helmer said, explaining that doing so automatically adds 10 seconds to the time. “After I saw I had a clean run, I was pretty satisfied. Everything went right, believe it or not.”

Her dad agreed. “(Her run) looked great – everything was good. She put it all together on that one.”

There were roughly 290 student competitors at the state rodeo – 80 in Helmer’s event alone. At nationals, there will be over 2,500 she said.

But the Helmers consider it just another date on the calendar since Helmer rodeos not only for High School Rodeo but also for 4-H and whatever else pops up.

“This just happens to be the biggest stage she’s ever rodeoed on,” her dad said of the national finals.

Helmer has been rodeoing since she was 12 years old. The youngest daughter of Loren and Alicia Helmer, her interest in the sport stems from the family’s use of horses on their cow-calf operation. The teen said she grew up watching her parents rope and tag calves.

“As soon as I could, I was there watching from horseback,” she said. “I always knew that’s just what I was going to do. The minute you win your first buckle, you’re hooked.”

Helmer was also influenced by neighbors and friends who rodeoed. She started out in barrel racing and pole bending, but said she soon discovered those sports weren’t for her. As soon as she went back to roping, she knew she’d found her sport; Helmer also competes in the team roping event.

Today, Helmer balances working part time with work on the ranch and rodeo. She says it’s a matter of priority. She usually hangs out with her friends during the off-season because she knows once summer rolls around she won’t have time to see them often.

“You cannot do this by yourself. In my case, my parents are a huge, huge factor. I could not do this without them,” she said.

As for the role her parents play in their daughter’s passion, her dad said, “It was worth it the first time she won a buckle. It’s fun.”

Helmer’s performance horse is Mister, a plain-looking solid sorrel, 16-year-old American Quarter Horse gelding who the Helmer family purchased as a colt with the intentions of using him as a work horse around the ranch. They didn’t know he had the competitive edge.

When she practices at home, Helmer said she’ll only run about half a dozen calves through the chute.

“If you have a good horse, why push it? I’d rather let them sit for a day,” she said.

While breakaway roping may appear rather simple, there are many technical aspects a performer needs to be aware of, Helmer pointed out. It’s not only the relationship between the rider and the horse but also how the calf behaves and weather plays a factor as well; in breakaway roping, contestants are paired with particular calves based on drawing numbers.

There’s a lot that can go wrong.

“It’s a sport that teaches you to deal with adversary. You have to learn to lose if you want to rodeo,” her dad said.

But when things go right, contestants advance through the ranks, like Helmer has.

“I feel like you get to the point you’ve been told you have the potential, that you have the talent, so you start to believe them and in yourself,” she said. “Making it to nationals was like, ‘okay, maybe I can do this.’ It’s finally sinking in. This is a big deal.”

While Helmer counts rodeo as a sport and puts her education at a higher level of importance, the National High School Finals Rodeo experience will help her determine where she goes to college this fall. She wants to study animal science and has narrowed her school choices down to two; one of them offers animal science as a major but their rodeo program isn’t as good as the other, out-of-state school which has the top college rodeo program in the country but only offers animal science as a minor.

“I cannot decide what I’m going to do. So I will spend a week at nationals and if I feel it’s something I’m willing to do... but at this point, it’s still a sport to me,” she said. “Wherever life takes me, I’ll go.”

Fifteen-year-old Abby Richie, Bristol also competed at the state high school rodeo. She is the daughter of Jason and Leslie Richie, Bristol. Events she competed in were breakaway (22nd overall), goat tying (32nd overall) and barrel racing (21st overall). Sara Hemmingson, Bradley placed 57th overall in goat tying, according to the South Dakota High School Rodeo website.

Two years ago, Richie’s older brother Nolan qualified for nationals and several years before that, Taryn Sipple of Pierpont went to nationals.

Helmer also received $2,500 in scholarships at the state rodeo; one was the East Region Scholarship and the other was the Western South Dakota Buckaroo Scholarship.

While in Wyoming, Helmer will celebrate her 18th birthday – the first day of the competition.

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