Surrounded by the graceful beauty of long manes and smooth, shiny coats of their trusted four-legged companions, Alabama’s young equestrians are making names for themselves on the rodeo circuit. Now, with financial support from the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Agriculture Foundation, members of the Alabama Junior High School Rodeo Association (AJHSRA) can gallop even further.
“Our organization has a long history of supporting youth agricultural activities,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “Events like Alabama Junior High School Rodeo competitions instill in young people a strong work ethic and a love of agriculture, and they encourage development of leadership skills that prepare them for a future in our industry.”
AJHSRA Secretary Dawn Hoagland said the organization’s support means a lot to young rodeo participants who often feel eclipsed by other athletic events.
“The Alabama Farmers Federation has been a great sponsor of youth rodeo for years, as have the county Federations,” said Dawn, who owns Lazy H Farms in Shelby County with her husband, Brian. “This year, the Federation gave $1,000 through the Agriculture Foundation, and we’ve received about $1,500 total from a few county Federations. We’re humbled by their investment in Alabama’s youth.”
The Agriculture Foundation investment sponsors 10 buckles, to be awarded at the AJHSRA State Finals in Montgomery, May 4-5. The foundation supports charitable, educational and scientific endeavors related to agriculture.
Hoagland’s daughter is a top rodeo competitor.
“I’ve been in rodeo for as long as I can remember,” said Lauryn Hoagland, 14, who competes in barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping, team roping and goat tying. “I’ve always had an interest in horses and rodeo. It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s nothing like competing.”
Eighth-grader Will Sikes also participates in the AJHSRA. He and Lauryn are captains of the CINCH Junior High School Rodeo Team, a select group of members from the state’s junior high division. Both qualified for the National Junior High School Rodeo Finals in Gallup, N.M., the past two years.
“I started rodeo in the second grade doing the Little Boots Rodeos and open horse shows,” said Will, who attends Hooper Academy in Montgomery County. “I team rope and ribbon rope. I also do breakaway calf roping, chute dogging and boys’ goat tying. Team roping is my favorite event, though.”
While they enjoy competing in events with friends, both youngsters say they are learning lessons that will last a lifetime.
“Teamwork and patience are the main two skills I’ve learned through rodeo,” explained Lauryn, who won the state All Around Cowgirl title the past two years. “You have to work really hard to balance practice, school and competing, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
For more information on AJHSRA, a statewide organization of students in grades 6-8, visit ajhsra.com.