Kentucky pair competing in National High School Finals Rodeo

WINCHESTER, KY. (FOX 56) — Kentucky is often called “Horse Country,” but for many, rodeo doesn’t immediately come to mind, at least not yet.

In less than a week, 15-year-old Lana Mitchell and 18-year-old Emma Jones will travel to Gillette, Wyoming to compete in the 2022 National High School Finals Rodeo. They are high school students George Rogers Clark, who seek to shine the spotlight on sport. However, they are not just looking to win. The couple want to show Kentucky more “cowgirl culture.”

“When I walk into the arena, that’s when all my nerves go,” Mitchell said. “I’m here to do my best.”

Mitchell grew up around horses but only started rodeo this year. Jones coached her in the sport.

“I ask him a lot of questions. Like, does it look good? Is this the right thing? Mitchell said.

From July 17-23, the duo will take on some of the biggest teens in the sport. Only the top four women in each event from each state can compete in the National High School Finals Rodeo. Jones is the current cup and defending state high school champion, while Mitchell is the newest reserve champion in those events. Both disciplines show their skills in handling cattle.

“It would be nice to win, but I know that’s not going to happen,” Jones said. “There are a lot more experienced people in the industry. It’s not big around here. Lana and I are pretty much the only people competing in cut and curb cowhorse.

Proudly attached to Jones’ belt is his 2022 Reining Cow Horse Championship Buckle. Jones also recently won the National Spirit Award for the State of Kentucky. It is awarded to the runner with the best attitude each year. So no matter how well Jones’ event went, she always had a smile on her face.

“It’s an honor to be able to wear this,” Jones. “I think I could make the sport more popular if people saw it and asked about it.”

The couple says one of the reasons rodeo isn’t as popular in central and eastern Kentucky is because of the breed of horses they ride. Mitchell and Jones compete with American Quarter Horses, while most people own Thoroughbreds. They say more riders are starting to compete in pole bending and barrel racing with Thoroughbreds and believe this change will bring more attention to rodeo.

Mitchell and Jones want to stay in the saddle as long as possible. In a few years, Mitchell wants to do rodeo in college.

Starting this fall, Jones is studying horses at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

The pair hope the sport will one day see a boom in Bluegrass.

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