By Jesse Wood
Sept. 16, 2013. More than a 1,000 people – not including families of the contestants – walked through the gates each night of the fourth annual High Country Cowgirls and Cowboys Rodeo, an event sanctioned by the Junior Southern Rodeo Association that is held in Deep Gap.
“It went very well. We were blessed with wonderful weather, and we had a huge crowd both nights and raised a lot of money for local kids,” said Gary Knight, an organizer of the rodeo and general manager of Mack Brown Chevrolet, the headlining sponsor of the event.
More than 250 kids aged 4 to 18 competed in barrel racing, bull riding, mutton bustin’, team roping, goat tying, tie down roping and much more, while Sunday featured “cowboy church” and a N.C. High School Association rodeo that more than 400 people attended.
Makoto’s of Boone and Carolina Barbecue were food vendors. Along with Mack Brown Chevrolet, Cheap Joes, Blue Ridge Electric, Farm Bureau and others supported this event.
Knight compared the junior rodeo circuit to NASCAR, where points are accumulated at each individual event and the junior cowboys and cowgirls are able to win cash prizes, products such as buckles and saddles and earn funds for college scholarships.
Before the local rodeo began fours years ago, the nearest junior rodeos took place in Yadkinville, Fletcher, Statesville, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, Knight said, adding that any child can participate in the rodeos for a fee even if he or she isn’t a member of the Junior Southern Rodeo Association.
With much success in a short period of time, Knight said organizers are expanding the program next year to include junior rodeo events in the spring and middle of July – as well as the annual September date – and some more high school rodeo events.
Knight added that High Country Cowboys and Cowgirls (HC3) organization wants to have events in the summer because the weather down the mountain is too hot for the animals and causes events to be cancelled or not held.
HC3 is also hoping to partner with the county to build an indoor facility for equestrian purposes to cater to more wranglers and to hold more than just a few events each year that would not be dependent on the weather.
Knight touted the economic impacts of the industry, mentioning that more than 4,000 people attended the 2012 rodeo in September and nearly that many attended the event last weekend.
Knight said that HC3 has been communicating with the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, and he mentioned the county’s involvement in the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park that was built to bring bikers and outdoor enthusiasts to the town and the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex at Brookshire Park.
Knight added that only about 10 families in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties are members of the Junior Southern Rodeo Association – compared to the thousands of people who attend the events.
“The Junior Southern Rodeo Association is not only bringing the individuals, but they are attracting all their families to the High Country and that’s a huge economic impact,” Knight said. “They have to eat and stay while they are here, and when they are not at the rodeo events on Friday and Saturday nights, they are out shopping.”
Aside from the economic impact, the rodeo events and the work leading up to those events instill character into the children who participate. Knight noted the sport teaches kids “a lot about values and responsibilities.”
Kids start participating at age four with mutton bustin’, where the kids rope sheep, and work there way up to riding bulls by the time they are 18 – all the while having a barrel of fun.
“They have a wonderful time. It shows how they can grow in the sport and how they can grow in personal life, learning everyday that they are training themselves and training their horses and learning a different aspect about what it takes to be a winner,” Knight said. “It shows kids responsibility. They feed them, dress them and brush them down. They take care of the animals and ride constantly to keep them refreshed and exercised.”
He pointed out Alex Vines, who is now attending Mars Hill College. She was the first child in the High Country to join the Junior Southern Rodeo Association and friends and cousins of her soon followed suit.
“She started at an early age,” Knight said. “Now she is in Mars Hill College and earned scholarships through the junior rodeo association.”