When Kortney Backus saddles up her horse to compete in Cedar City on Sept. 13 and 14, it will mark the first step of a lengthy and expensive commitment.
Backus, who is this year’s freshman class president, has already decided to drop cheerleading and volleyball this fall, as well as softball in the spring, in order to pursue rodeo. Although she has ridden horses since the tender age of 2, she didn’t compete in her first major rodeo until earlier this year.
“Once you get involved, you just can’t quit,” she said. “Rodeo is my passion and I never give up on my dreams.”
Her dream has the backing of her parents, Brian and Kelsie Backus, who said they are nevertheless worried about the financial aspects.
Rodeo is a notoriously expensive sport, with costs typically running several thousands of dollars per year. In addition to the costs associated with the horses themselves – including feed, grooming, boarding fees, and veterinary bills – there are also entry fees, fuel and other transportation costs, not to mention the expensive custom-made outfits worn by the riders themselves.
“She has already been raising some money, but will have to do a lot more fundraising in order for her to be able to compete,” said Kortney’s mother, Kelsie Backus. “It’s a serious commitment. It teaches independence and responsibility.”
For her part, Kortney has already been busy washing cars, lining up sponsorships and donations, and doing other fundraising activities over the past couple months.
The sport has its own governing body, the Utah High School Rodeo Association, which has its own regulations and bylaws. Backus says she has been memorizing the rule book to get ready for the tests that are given as part of the “queening” competition at each rodeo.
The Utah high school rodeo season runs from August to November, then resumes in the spring, from April until the state finals in June. Events are held almost every weekend throughout the season in locations around the state, including St. George, Panguitch, Tooele, Vernal, Cedar City, Ogden and Salina. The 2014 state finals will be in Heber City in June, followed by the national finals in Wyoming in July.
Although many rural Utah high schools have their own rodeo teams comprised of several athletes, Backus will have to go solo. She still has to keep up good grades and attendance, just as she would in any other high school sport. Also, since she won’t be receiving financial support from the school, she and her family must come up with all the money themselves.
The most recent Grand County High School student to compete on the Utah high school circuit was Jacob Cresswell, a 2009 graduate who competed in bull riding during his senior year. Several years prior to that, the Krist family (siblings Susan, J.R., and Nicole) competed in various events over a period of a few years. But Backus appears to be the first female competitor to represent GCHS in the past decade or so.
Backus plans to participate in a variety of rodeo events, including barrel racing, breakaway roping, poles and goat tying. There is also an event called “queening,” which combines pageant-style appearance and poise with precision horsemanship. Backus says she plans to take three horses with her to the competitions: Toby for barrel racing and breakaway roping, Fancy for poles and goat tying, and Glitter for the queening event.
Of the various rodeo events available to female competitors, Backus says barrel racing is her favorite.
“It’s all about the speed and the adrenaline,” she said. “It’s hard when you are so dependent on your horse. You have to push both of you to succeed as a team, or not at all.”
The Backus family owns and takes care of a dozen horses at their Spanish Valley home. Although they have long enjoyed trail riding and showing their horses, Kortney’s participation in competitive rodeo marks a major step up in terms of commitment and money.
“It’s not just a hobby,” says Backus, who rides and practices between three and four hours each day. She says the sport requires her to be in excellent physical condition, with quick reflexes and a sharp sense of control, balance, and timing.
Backus has already set her sights high, with a goal to compete in high school rodeo for the next four years, after which she hopes to compete at both the college and professional level. She says she dreams of becoming a Miss Utah Rodeo queen, and possibly even Miss Rodeo America.
“I plan to promote the sport of rodeo as best as I can, for as long as I can,” she said.
Anyone interested in sponsoring or supporting Backus in her fundraising efforts may contact Kelsie Backus at 435-259-2558. Donations may also be made online at the website www.gofundme.com/high-school-rodeo.