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Aiming for the heights in the rodeo world

Katelyn McRee’s dream is to rise in the professional rodeo ranks and one day compete in the National Finals Rodeo.

Though only 17, Pagosa’s McRee is well on her way.

McRee recently competed in the National High School Finals Rodeo held in Gillette, Wyo. — for the third consecutive year.

She will also travel to China this October to compete in a 4-H rodeo and introduce the people of China to the culture of the American West through the art and science of rodeo — one of only 20 students from the state chosen for the honor from a list of over 120 applicants.

To qualify for the National High School Finals Rodeo, athletes compete in rodeos held throughout their home state, then compete in a state rodeo final.

McCree said there were 31 rodeos throughout the season, located all over Colorado, with two rodeos per weekend in one location.

Points are awarded for first place through 10th place at each rodeo during the season, with the top four teams or contenders in each of the 12 events qualifying for state, McRee said. The points garnered throughout the season are also added to state competition totals to determine the overall state winners.

McRee competes in barrel racing, breakaway, pole bending and team roping, qualifying for nationals in two of the events — barrel racing and breakaway.

At the state event, which took place June 15-18 in Craig, Colo., McRee placed second in the two events.

In breakaway, McRee said she entered the competition in second place and, after catching the three cows in a “reasonable” time, finished in second place.

In barrels, McRee said she and her horse, Mister, did not have a great run, but were consistent enough for a second-place finish.

Then came nationals, with 180 athletes in each of McRee’s events, The national event took place July 17-23 in Gillette.

In breakaway, McRee recorded a first-round time of 2:55, placing her second in the standings. For the first-round performance, she was awarded a $100 scholarship and a belt buckle.

The second round, however, was less successful for McRee, with the calf running under her horse, Rascal.

Barrels, too, proved to be a challenge for McRee and Mister at the national competition, with Mister not used to the deep dirt the venue presented.

McRee said the deep dirt meant her horse did not run as hard as usual and her run was slower than the pace of the competition.

But the challenges have not deterred McRee, whose goal is to make it to nationals all four years of high school.

“Just making it there and coming out with that second place in the first go,” McRee said of her favorite part of the competition, “I’m still in shock.”

The second-place finish in the first round was McRee’s highest finish at nationals to date.

As a freshman, McRee finished 19th in pole bending and 25th in barrels. As a sophomore, she placed 21st in barrels.

McRee’s rodeo success is no surprise — she began riding horses before many learn to ride a bike, and she has not slowed down.

McRee’s parents, Tim and Tracie, gave her a pony for her third birthday and McRee’s work began. She said she was bucked off the pony for the first time that very day.

Her love for the sport continued to grow over the years, changing into a lifestyle.

Her daily routine focuses on her dreams of competing in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and National Finals Rodeo, from her jobs to her home life.

She ropes bales every day and works two jobs, both dealing with horses, at LASSO and leading trail rides, practices with her team roping partner from Durango, conditions Mister and Rascal, and attends rodeos in her down time.

She’s also working with two young rope horses, which she says has helped her improve her horsemanship and roping.

“I love it. I can’t ever picture doing anything else,” McRee says.

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