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Colton's Makayla Johnson gets first glimpse of National High School Finals Rodeo

The soon-to-be-junior was surprised to find that "The World's Largest Rodeo" in Rock Springs, Wyo. turned out to be bigger than she had first imagined.


Colton's Makayla Johnson and her horse Bennie's Mate compete in the cutting competition during the July 13-19 National High School Finals Rodeo at the Sweetwater Events Complex in Rock Springs, Wyo. (Photo courtesy of Shawna Johnson)Colton’s Makayla Johnson knew that the National High School Finals Rodeo is also known as “The World’s Largest Rodeo.”

But it wasn’t until she arrived in Rock Springs, Wyo., last week and got to compete among the more than 1,500 contestants from 42 U.S. States, five Canadian provinces, and Australia, that she understood that the NHSFR's nickname was no exaggeration.

Johnson fell short of reaching the finals in both the girls’ cutting and pole bending events, but gained experience that she hopes will pay dividends heading into her junior year.

Next year, she won't be a first-timer in awe.

“It was a great learning experience,” Johnson said by phone from Wyoming. “It was so much bigger than I had imagined. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, that’s for sure.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d rate my performance a six or seven. I learned so much that I’m excited to bring back with me and start working on making next season even better than the season I had this year.”

The July 13-19 NHSFR featured 13 performances, beginning with a single, evening performance on Sunday, July 13, following by two performances — morning and evening — over the next six days.

Johnson made her first appearance with her cutting horse, Bennie’s Mate, during Tuesday’s evening performance. She then came back with her pole bending horse, Kassi, during Wednesday’s morning and evening shows, and then finished up a second round of cutting in Thursday’s morning performance.

Her cutting scores of 131 and 125 were solid for someone who only started cutting competitively six months ago, but lagged behind the overall leaders, who posted scores in the 140-150 range.

“My horse and I did great,” Johnson said. “Bennie was on it. It was the biggest herd of cows I’ve ever gone into with 46 cows. The biggest I’d ever gone into before was 20-something. So that was nerve-wracking, but I had some of the best turn-backs I’ve had, ever.

“Bennie and I have the capability to score better. It just takes a little bit of time to start figuring her out and getting her to work good. Most of the girls that scored 140 and better were from Texas and Oklahoma where that’s all they do is cutting. They’ve been cutting their whole life. I’ve been doing it for six months.”

She has an inkling about things she’d like to work on with her cutting trainer, Cara Rose Tuggle, when she returns to Colton.

In pole pending, the stronger of her two events, Johnson got off to a rocky start with a time of 26.792 seconds, which included a 5-second penalty for hitting a pole. She then went 21.533 on her second go-round.

“I was so nervous, I thought I was going to get sick before I ran poles the first time,” Johnson said. “I messed up and I hit a pole my first run, so that was a bummer, because I hadn’t hit a pole all season. The one time I do, it’s at nationals, but that’s OK.”

Johnson said the best part was sharing the experience with her family and meeting so many people from other parts of the country.

“It’s wonderful to know how nice and helpful people are from other places,” Johnson said. “At Nationals, everyone just wants to help you do the best you can. That’s really nice, because you don’t always have that in a high competition like this.”

Johnson’s parents, Shawna and Randy, were happy that their daughter enjoyed his first trip to the national finals.

“Going to Nationals is a chance of a lifetime,” Randy Johnson said. “You never know if she’s going to make it back. The horses have to be healthy, mom and dad have to be healthy, the kid has to be healthy, you know what I mean? It’s a lot things coming together, and the horses are a big part of it, because it only takes one little thing, one little injury to change everything.

“Makayla is a sophomore and most of the kids there were seniors. So to get here as a sophomore, we’re pretty proud of her. We hope she learned a lot, and if she makes it next time, hopefully she won’t be as stressed out.”

If she had it to do over again, Johnson said she would try to be more aggressive.

“I would come in stronger to my first go and not choke up,” she said. “I’d just go for it … hard, all the way. I made it here, so there’s nothing to lose now. That was the mindset I should have come in with, and I didn’t.

“So, that was kind of a bummer, but, hey, I learned from it and it’s great that I got this experience.”

Jim Beseda / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(503) 829-2301



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