By Jacque Scoby
Natalie Leisinger rode into the National High School Finals Rodeo on a horse named Buster.
She’ll ride out on a horse named Chili.
It’s the proverbial mid-stream horse change.
Leisinger, a Highmore native, qualified for the National High Schools Finals Rodeo in the reined cow horse event using Buster, a steady, reliable and comfortable ride.
“He worked really good (at regionals and state),” Leisinger said. “But going to the national level, you have to take a step up.”
Enter Chili, a relatively recent addition to the family.
“He was a roping horse, but we figured out he had a background as a cow horse,” Leisinger said. “Turns out he’s pretty darn good. So we’ll try him.”
Leisinger would know what good looks like.
The soon-to-be high school senior — who also dabbles in volleyball, basketball, goat tying, breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing — is the step-daughter of former world champion team roper Bobby Harris, a man Leisinger credits with introducing her to the world of rodeo.
Now, Leisinger is helping introduce the world to a relatively new event.
Reined cow horse was first included in the high school rodeo competition three years ago. It is meant to test a competitor’s knowledge of both the cow and the horse. Riders begin with a pre-determined reining pattern (loping circles right and left, lead changes and sliding stops), after which a cow is introduced into the arena.
Competitors must keep the cow on one end of the arena in an exercise known as “boxing.” Then, riders must run the cow along the fence, turning it each way, then move to the center of the arena, where they must circle the cow both to the right and to the left.
In essence, riders must show the judges they have control of both their horse and the cow throughout the exercise.
“It’s a little different than your traditional team roping or barrels,” Leisinger said. “It’s more like cutting and reigning. It’s a little bit different than your traditional rodeo event.”
Though Leisinger joined the rodeo world at a young age, thanks to her relationship with Harris, the reined cow horse event is still new for everyone involved. Leisinger competed as a freshman; though, her assessment of her performance stands at “not very good.”
That changed last year when she made the short go and finished sixth overall.
This year, her sights are set even higher.
“You want to set your goals high,” she said. “You always want to win, but if I exceed what I did last year, I’ll be plum happy.”
It’s that goal and that mindset that brought on the mid-stream change of ride. While Buster is still a good, competitive ride, Chili adds another level of competitiveness for Leisinger.
“He’s got a bigger motor and (is) way more energetic,” she said.
And while Leisinger isn’t nervous about using Chili in the finals, she is thankful for the small break between the state finals and the national competition.
“You’ve just got to be able to adjust to (the horses) and how they react,” she said. “You have to adjust to them and their mannerisms. It just takes time.”
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