Haight Makes Trip From Kodiak Island To Compete In IFYR


Natasha Dunagan

Laura Haight, of Kodiak Island, Alaska, rounds the third barrel on Arya, July 13, at the IFYR.

Sixteen-year-old, Laura Haight, began her trip in May with a 12-hour ferry ride from Kodiak Island, Alaska, across the Gulf of Alaska. She was traveling with her parents, Mike and Robin; two horses, Cowboy and Dash; and two dogs.

After reaching the main-land at Homer, Alaska, it was another two days across the state, followed by four days of travel across Canada, then three days of driving from Montana to Oklahoma.

There was a week-long stop in Idaho because Cowboy developed anhidrosis and stopped sweating, and there was time lost in Wyoming for a busted transmission on their motor home. But, several thousand dollars later, they made it to their destination: the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee.

For the first time, Haight is competing in the barrel racing and breakaway events this week at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center. She practices about four hours per day to prepare for the rodeo, which has more than 680 entrants.

This isn't the first time she's competed in a rodeo in Oklahoma, though. She and her mother flew down in January and bought a horse. Then, they decided to go to a few local rodeos and jackpots. They didn't get to attend as many as planned, but Haight did win the Dona Kay Rule Barrel Race in Purcell. She was competing against 250 people of all ages, and that is when they had the idea to compete in bigger rodeos.

"It was a pro-qualifier," said Robin. "So, that's what made us think it was okay, that she could probably compete with the rest of them. That's when we decided our journey was going to start to come here to do bigger and better things."

In June, she participated in rodeos in Checotah, where she won the barrel race, and in Wilburton.

Before the IFYR started, on July 10, Laura just hoped for some success.

"I've never been to something like this," she said. "So, I don't really know what to expect, but it would be really nice if I can at least make the short go."

She also hopes to find a trailer sponsor, so her family won't have to drive two vehicles to events.

Laura began riding horses in 4-H Club as a child and was taught by her sister, Sam, and later by instructors. She began competing in horse shows and rodeos at age 9, through both 4-H and princess competitions.

"I did the princess contests a couple of times before I had a barrel horse or anything," she said. "I had some people that I was taking lessons from (in riding) gave me a few lessons on barrels, and I've trained them up since then."

Robin said Laura started with the Kodiak Rodeo and American Quarterhorse Association. Then, they met a man with the Alaska State Fair who got her into the Alaska Junior High Rodeo and Alaska High School Rodeo.

"She's also a qualifier in the Alaska High School Rodeo," said Mike. "She's State All-Around Champion in Alaska at this point."

He said she was also the state all-around champion in her freshman year, and she competed in the National High School Rodeo Finals, in Guthrie, in June of last year. Laura said this coming National High School Rodeo will be her third time to compete in the event.

Coming from a sparsely-populated state, Laura said she comes to Oklahoma to find more competition.

"I like everything about (rodeo). I'm really competitive," she said. "The reason we're down here for the summer is Alaska's gotten to where I'm pretty much winning everything I go to. I'm coming here for the summer to move up in competition level."

There are only seven or eight rodeos in Alaska, Laura said, and coming from an island, it's a challenge to get to all of them and earn points. It is also difficult to have horses on Kodiak since their one veterinarian specializes in small animals.

Likewise, it is a challenge for rodeos to find sponsors, so Laura used her earnings from the Purcell rodeo to sponsor the Alaska Junior High Rodeo All-Around saddle.

"I got an All-Around saddle for winning everything, and I felt bad that the junior high didn't have one," she said. "So, I sponsored the junior high saddle so they'd have one, too. I had to get a sponsor for myself, too, because they don't normally do saddles."

Besides donating her winnings, Laura mentors three young girls in riding and barrel racing. She uses her 20-year-old Paint mare, which she used to use for rodeo, to teach Siri Rieutta, and Naamah and Jael North.

"We left (the mare) down here for about a year, and we were going to breed her, but that didn't work out," she said. "So, we brought her back, and I said, 'Well, I'll just teach lessons on her.' I got this little girl, and she's leasing her out for the summer. ... They're really good. They're doing rodeos there while I'm gone."

Laura, herself, started with a disadvantage in not having the best horses, but she learned to train them to help her odds.

"I never had, like, good horses when I was growing up, and I've gotten bucked off more times than I can count," she said. "My horses were at the bottom of the line. They were no fun to rodeo on."

"They got there eventually, but for just me starting out when I was little, they were not very fun to start out on," she added. "I've trained them now, and they're pretty competitive now."

Laura's students are helping to take care of the other horses and animals they left at home. Mike said their presence helps to discourage the bears.

"We have to put electric fences around, or the bears will get our chickens," he said.

In the meantime, the Haight's and their horses have a more pressing challenge: the heat.

"We've paid more vet bills here than we've done for five or six years in Alaska," said Robin. "That's why we've been in and out of there because of the heat, and everything's different."

Natasha Dunagan

Laura Haight, of Kodiak Island, Alaska, grooms Arya before their barrel riding event at the IFYR on July 13.

"Our horses didn't handle it as well as we thought," she said. "(Cowboy's) hair's falling off, and he doesn't look like the horse that we brought here."


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