Helmer riding high to high school finals

Kate Helmer is preparing to compete in breakaway roping at the National High School Finals Rodeo. Courtesy photo

By Cuyler Meade
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For Kate Helmer, rodeo is as much about competition as it is about function.

The Andover native and Groton High graduate will compete in the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo., from Sunday through July 22. She competes in the roping events — breakaway roping and team roping at the high school level, and ribbon roping on top of those two in 4-H rodeo — and qualified for nationals in breakaway.

Helmer describes her attachment to her particular disciplines much the way a fisherman who eats most of his catch would describe fishing. Roping is just what she does. It always has been.

“My parents used horses at home for cattle stuff,” Helmer said. “I roped and tagged calves in the spring. The neighbors, they roped and rodeoed, and they just said, ‘Why don’t you come and try it?’ So I did.”

It turned out, she was darned good at it.

“I really like working with horses,” Helmer said. “I like working with cattle. It takes a lot of work. It’s the only thing I’ve ever worked hard enough to be good at.”

Breakaway is a calf-roping event that involves chasing down a sprinting calf while on horseback and lassoing it firmly enough that it pulls the rider’s rope, tied loosely to her saddle horn, from the saddle. It’s a timed event, and the best riders complete the task in seconds.

Helmer’s affection for the event can be explained as simply as you’d expect.

“(It’s) just calf roping,” she said. “Just roping calves. It’s something I’ve done. I’ve only ever been any good at the roping. I tried to barrel race and pole bend, but I just prefer roping.”

And why not? Helmer has roping horses at home. She ropes at home. That’s a thing she does — a thing she came up doing.

“You can make barrel and pole horses yourself, too, but we just started working on (our horses),” Helmer said. “They’re nothing special. They’re horses that we’ve had around.”

If that sounds a little understated, well, it sounds like Helmer. Straightforward, down-to-earth, and anything but flashy, Helmer isn’t one to draw attention to herself. That notwithstanding, she’s still impossible to miss, with long, fire-red hair bouncing behind her cowgirl’s gait.

She appreciates the responsibility ropers take in their approach to their sport.

“You’re able to overcome,” she said. “Maybe you have a bad calf, or whatever the deal may be. But you don’t complain about the ground, you don’t complain about this or that. You just rope it.”

In Gillette, her expectations for herself are predictably measured. Good, respectable results will satisfy Helmer, who said she hopes to make the “short go,” or essentially the second round following an elimination after two previous “goes.”

“I’m not sure how many go to the short go because there’s so many people that are going to be out there,” Helmer said, “But I want to have some pretty quick times. It’s going to be some pretty salty ropers that are out there, so I’ve got to be on my ‘A’ game.”

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