4-H experience makes South Dakota home

Farm Forum

I like to think of myself as a rather open-minded person, who is eager to experience new things.

It is for that reason that I believe I owe South Dakota an apology.

When I arrived in the state a little over 10 months ago, I thought I was ready to experience new things. It wasn’t my first time making a major move ,and in each of the other instances, I feel I embraced what the state had to offer. In South Carolina, I visited the lake daily and checked off waterfalls around the region as I visited them. In Atlanta, I became an annual pass-holder at as many places as I could and filled my calendar with trips to Braves’ games — where I always pulled for the visitors. In Florida, I frequented the beach and took monthly treks to Disney World.

In South Dakota … I looked for things that were familiar.

This is where the apology comes in.

Instead of embracing the uniqueness of the state, I acted like a tourist for the better part of a year. I visited all the usual places in Aberdeen and beyond, but each time, I compared those experiences to something I had done somewhere else. I didn’t do this consciously. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at all until a recent Sunday, when I found myself working on what is normally a day off.

With a thin schedule for the summer, I scoured the area for something to write about and came up with the Hub Area 4-H Rodeo at the Brown County Fairgrounds. My plan was to go to the rodeo early, spend an hour taking photos and digging up a story before heading back to the office to write and still enjoy a portion of the day at home.

To borrow a phrase, this was not my first rodeo.

My first rodeo came more than two decades ago. The church I attended decided to send a group of kids to horse camp. Only one girl had signed up and our parents colluded to enlist me to attend so she would know someone other than the dozen or so boys attending. I was 10, maybe 11. The week before we were to head to camp, the other girl backed out because she would miss too many softball games. So, I was the girl that went alone.

The first night, it was time to pick the elective that would fill a large portion of each day. I decided on archery and walked to the area where the sign-up sheet was posted and saw a group of 20-25 boys in line. Intimidated, I decided archery wasn’t for me.

I scanned the area and found just one other group. It was small, maybe 10 girls. I walked over and printed my name below “Vaulting.” I had participated in gymnastics when I was 6 and 7, so I wasn’t a stranger to the term, but I had no idea what I was getting into.

In short, I spent a portion of that summer learning to do gymnastics on horseback. I learned to mount a bareback horse, stand on its back, somersault and do various other tricks. At the end of camp, a rodeo was held and I earned a spot in the ring. Horse camp ended, and so did my future in rodeo.

Over the years as a reporter, I would cover my share of touring events, mostly at state or county fairs. The cowboys, who were bucked too early in their runs or were eager to get on to the next city, weren’t interested in talking to a local sports reporter. Many of the promoters were disorganized and the whole experience would be an exercise in patience for me.

My trip to the Hub Area 4-H Rodeo was an entirely different experience. There was some of the excitement from my youth, but none of the stress from my previous reporting experiences. I found what I had been missing since my move to South Dakota — and I embraced it.

I stayed at the rodeo longer than I planned, talked to dozens of people and soaked up the experience. I called my family and told them what they were missing. I listened to children, too young to participate, talk about the contestants like they were heroes.

“She is the best goat tier I ever saw,” I heard a girl about 6 years old say to a friend with wonder in her voice. “She is faster than anyone ever.”

I felt underdressed in my jeans, golf shirt and sneakers next to the 8-year-olds with cowboy hats, western shirts and belt buckles.

When I left, I felt like buying a pair of boots and saddling up myself. It took me 10 months, but I had found something in South Dakota that I wouldn’t dare compare to anything else.

I was told that the American News hadn’t covered the event in recent years and I’m glad I bucked that trend. When the calendar for next summer comes out, my name will certainly be penciled in next to the Hub Area 4-H Rodeo.

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