Mobridge native ready for last shot at high school nationals

Farm Forum

When Madison Rau makes her way to the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo., this weekend, the Mobridge resident knows it will be for the last time.

Rau competed in the South Dakota High School Rodeo during each of her four years of eligibility. Each year, her goal was to reach nationals. She did it twice. First as a freshman and now at the end of her senior year.

Going into the South Dakota High School Rodeo, Rau said she was a little more nervous this year than in the past.

“I knew it was my last year,” she said.

Rau rose to the challenge, and qualified for nationals by placing in the top four in barrel racing at the state competition. She scored 75 points — just one less than state champion Alyssa Lockhart of Oelrichs.

Rau also competes in pole bending, but said barrel racing is her favorite.

“It’s just the one that my horse and I do the best at,” Rau said.

Rau and her horse, Piper, have been together for eight years. In many ways, they’ve grown up together.

“We bought her as a 2-year-old and trainer her ourselves,” Rau said. “I have a couple of backups, but mostly, I just run (Piper). She is my teammate and she is pretty much my best friend. I spend every day with her.”

Rau said what makes Piper a great competitor is her heart.

“She is kind of on the shorter side,” Rau said. “She is also kind of built bigger, kind of stocky. She doesn’t look like your typical barrel horse. It’s got to be her heart that makes her good at her job. She loves her job.”

Rau and Piper have a routine when it comes to warming up. Depending on how the horse feels, Rau will either cut the time short or allow to to stretch a bit.

“You can’t warm her up for very long or she just gets antsy and weird,” Rau said.

So, Rau will warm Piper and then they will sit and watch the competition together. To calm herself, Rau will hum or sing to herself. A race before it is their turn, Rau will walk Piper up to the gate.

“That’s when she gets it in her head that it’s almost time to get going,” Rau said. “Her eyes get really big right before we are going to run. That’s something I notice, but I don’t think anyone else really does.”

When they enter the arena, both react on instinct.

Rau said too much thinking leads to mistakes.

“We just do what we always do,” she said. “(Piper) makes the same run every time. I really don’t have to think about it. She knows her job.”

Rau began riding when she was 3 years old and got into rodeo through the 4-H when she was 8. She said riding is something she and her mother do together.

“I have two older brothers and they were always into sports, but never rodeo,” Rau said. “They support me very much and get to as many events as they can. When I’m out rodeoing, they are out picking up my slack in the fields and that means a lot, too.”

The Rau family farms and ranches, but Madison plans to leave the family business for a while in pursuit of an education. She will enroll at South Dakota State University in the fall and enter into the radiology program. At SDSU, she will also be able to fulfill another long-time goal — competing in college rodeo.

“It’s something I always wanted to do after high school,” Rau said. “Just like pro rodeo. That will give me a way to pay for it all.”

Standing between Rau and her goal of a national high school championship or the opportunity to compete at the professional level are scores of individuals just like her. At the high school nationals alone there will be 184 other girls entered in barrel racing. But Rau doesn’t mind the competition.

“I love going up against other really good girls,” she said. “It shows that if you work hard, you can ranch with some of the best of them.”

Rau failed to qualify for nationals in the past two seasons. She credits some “ups and downs” with her horse during that time, but said they are both ready for their last shot before college.

The National High School Rodeo finals are held from July 17-23. Rau plans to make the most of the time there. She will compete for the first time on Monday morning, with the finals slated for July 22.

“I want to explore absolutely everything,” she said. “I want to cheer on everybody. It’s a family sport. Everyone of the contestants becomes a part of your family, so you try to watch them and cheer them on as you are competing as well.”

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2016 National Qualifiers from South Dakota

Boys cutting — Chet Crago (Belle Fourche), Myles Kenzy (Iona), Rhett Fox (Redig), Sawyer Strand (Harrisburg).

Girls cutting — Jessica Ryan (Belle Fourche), Sydney Davidson (Parkston), Tanegai Zilverberg (Holabird), Kailyn Groves (Faith).

Reined cow horse — Myles Kenzy (Iona), Collin Palmer (Bison), Natalie Leisinger (Highmore), Reece Ullerich (Humboldt).

Bareback — Colt Hokana (Columbia), Seth Rice (Spearfish), Trae Edoff (Fairfax).

Breakaway — Taylor Bothwell (Pierre), Savana Johnston (Elm Springs), Payton Donnelly (Elk Point), Tanegai Zilverberg (Holabird).

Pole bending — Keanna Ward (Fruitdale), Josey Aasby (Highmore), Alyssa Lockhart (Oelrichs), Bailey Moody (Letcher).

Tie-down roping — Myles Kenzy (Iona), Jon Peterson (Belle Fourche), Winston Brown (Sturgis), Tate Petrak (Martin).

Saddle bronc — Jacob Kammerer (Philip), Cash Wilson (Wall), Carter Elshere (Elm Springs), Wyatt Schuelke (Faith).

Goat tying — Rickie Engesser (Spearfish), Mary Risse (Martin), Keanna Ward (Fruitdale), Emilee Pauley (Wall).

Steer wrestling — Carson Good (Long Valley), Jacob Kammerer (Philip), Cyler Dowling (Newell), Brent Woodward (Dupree).

Team roping — Race Johnson/Jacob Kammerer (Philip), Rich Marone/Blair Lammers (Hartford), Braden Pirrung/James Kirwan (Hartford), Tanielle Arneson/Wyatt Schuelke (Faith).

Bull riding — Teigan Gray (Ridgeview), Tucker Easton (Wessington Springs), Dylan Rice (Flandreau), Jake Foster (Meadow).

Barrel racing — Alyssa Lockhardt (Oelrichs), Madison Rau (Mobridge), Sloan Anderson (Timber Lake), Siarra Johnson (Castlewood) .

Trap shooting — John Gropper (Faith), Sam Gropper (Faith), Tate Olson (Belle Fourche), Greg Voller (Belle Fourche).

Light rifle — Kaycee Szymanski (Rapid City), Tee McAmis (Belle Fourche), Seth Shorb (Farmingdale), Josey Aasby (Highmore).