News from the Tennessee Valley News

Ronnie Thomas

Sierra Waldrep, on top of her mare Candy, prepares to lasso a steer as she practices for an event called “Breakaway Roping” at her family’s Town Creek ranch. Sierra is practicing for a national competition in Gallup, N.M., next month.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Sierra Waldrep, on top of her mare Candy, prepares to lasso a steer as she practices for an event called “Breakaway Roping” at her family’s Town Creek ranch. Sierra is practicing for a national competition in Gallup, N.M., next month.

A long gallop to reach Gallup
13-year-old Town Creek girl to compete in national rodeo

TOWN CREEK — The bench seat at the kitchen table hides a 30-gallon tank. An outside spigot delivers drinking water for the horses.

Steps away, underneath a seat at the foot of the bed, rests another 30-gallon tank. A line carries its contents to a shower stall down the hall.

Three separate horse stalls in the back are for B.J., 17, and Bon-Jovi, 16, both geldings, and Candy, 7, a mare. Stacked near them are 200 pounds of feed and five bales of hay.

You’re in Ronnie Paul Waldrep’s 38-foot-long horse trailer, which he pulls with a 1-ton diesel dually. If you’re “chasin’ this dream they call rodeo,” that Garth Brooks bellowed out in his “Ropin’ the Wind” album, get ready to ride.

Waldrep, 48, has been there, done that. This ride is for his daughter, Sierra. Only 13, she also knows about “the white in (her) knuckles, the gold in the buckle (she’ll) win the next go ‘round.”

In her decade-old career, she has won 20 buckles and the admiration of the rodeo world. She began competing at 3, when she rode a horse named Mr. T in barrel racing.

Late this month, the Waldreps will travel 30 hours on a 1,550-mile trip to Gallup, N.M., where Sierra will compete July 2-7 in the 3rd Annual Wrangler Junior High Finals Rodeo at Red Rock State Park.

Katie Hollingsworth, Wrangler Division coordinator at the National High School Rodeo office in Denver, said Wednesday that 38 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia are eligible to send finalists to the junior high event.

“We’re anticipating more than 900 kids in sixth through eighth grade. They’ll be competing for more than $150,000 in college scholarships and prizes,” she said.

Sierra, who will be in eighth grade this fall at Colbert County High School in Leighton, took part in the rodeo at Gallup last year for the first time with two horses in tow. She rode King, who is 29 and still on the Waldrep’s Town Creek ranch, and B.J., in five events.

“I didn’t team rope last year, and this year I’m not going to pole bend,” Sierra said. “I’ll ride B.J. in barrel racing, Candy in breakaway roping and goat tying, and Bon-Jovi in team roping. I also will take part in ribbon roping, but won’t be on my horse. My partner will be roping the calf on his, and I’ll be getting the ribbon off and running it back to the starting line. For me, it’s a foot race.”

Sierra and the other athletes will appear in a total of 10 daily rodeo performances with the top 20 students in each event qualifying for the championship final go-round July 7.

“Last year I didn’t do very well in the first go-round, but did much better in the second,” Sierra said.

“The scores are averaged out, and I was 24th in pole bending and 32nd in barrel racing. I’m determined this year to make it to the top 20.”

Her favorite event is barrel racing, where she rides B.J. in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the arena.

The first ride, the long haul to Gallup, might seem the biggest test, but Sierra takes it in stride. And the horses?

“They’re used to it. They get hauled every week,” she said. “We will stop every five or six hours and unload them and walk them, where they won’t get stove up. We try to go where there’s a lot of grass, which is a cushion for their ankles and legs. There are stockyards at some exits, and we usually pull over there. And sometimes we get off at big truck stops with lots of grass behind them.

“When we stop a few minutes to eat, we also will unload them and tie them to the trailer, unless we’re in big cities,” she said.

Leading up to the trip, Sierra said, she will keep her horses, which she calls “my kids,” out of the arena as much as possible “so they won’t blow up. That’s what I call it, where they get so tired of it and start dreading their job instead of loving it. And B.J. especially will start raring up with you and stuff like that.”

Instead, to keep them in shape, she’ll ride them around the pasture a mile a day and “long trot them, where they stretch their legs out. I will have them at top shape when we arrive in Gallup, where they can compete at their best.”

Ronnie Paul Waldrep said rodeo entrance fees, diesel fuel, stall costs and hookups will total about $2,500. He said it’s worth the cost to watch his daughter compete on a national scale.

“I’d rather be on the road rodeoing with my animals than anything else in the world,” Sierra said.

Her main goal is to one day make the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, where “the best of the best go.”

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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