Laura Haight’s chances of riding in the National High School Finals Rodeo dwindled with each ferry cancellation.
Through all the disappointment, the rising sophomore kept her fingers crossed. Finally, on the ninth attempt to get off The Rock, Laura and her mom boarded a plane set for Guthrie, Oklahoma — the site of the world’s largest rodeo — on July 6.
“We were about ready to pack it up and say it’s not going to happen,” said Haight from Oklahoma on Thursday.
The Haights — and two horses — had been trying to leave Kodiak since April. They needed to go nearly three months before the competition to ensure plenty of time to get the animals adjusted to their new digs.
They finally gave up on the ferry, which, because of maintenance and COVID-19, didn’t get back on line until mid-June. The Haights switched their focus to flying and finding competition horses to lease in Oklahoma.
They found a family who leased them two quarter horses — Moose and Moses — and a motorhome. Haight only trained with the unfamiliar horses a few times before beginning competition on Friday.
“Every horse feels different,” Haight said. “This horse is way different than my horse, he turns the barrel a lot tighter, and I don’t have to pull him as hard.”
Haight adjusted quite well and placed 29th out of 110 competitors in barrel racing with a time of 16.204 seconds. She wraps up the rest of her events — pole bending, goat tying and breakaway roping — over the next few days. The rodeo, which usually draws 1,500 competitors, ends on Thursday.
Haight, who competed in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, qualified for the high school division by dominating the Alaska rodeo circuit last summer, winning the all-around cowgirl and rookie of the year awards.
Her first taste of rodeo came when she was 9, riding in local Kodiak events. She started testing her skills on the mainland in 2016.
“I ride every day, even if it is not in the arena we go out on the beach and trail ride,” said Haight.
Haight has three horses in Kodiak, including Cowboy, the top horse in Alaska’s high school circuit last summer. She said it is hard not to have Cowboy to ride on during her biggest competition to date. However, experiencing the junior high division finals in 2018 has helped calm the nerves.
“That was my first big rodeo, and it helped me prepare a lot for this one,” said Haight, who thanked her parents for making the nationals trip happen.