Sweaty, dirt-stained, laughing children with blue Slushie smiles run amok as they twirl ropes. On a hot Saturday in Salem, Ind., the Southern Indiana Junior Rodeo Association hosts nearly 140 contestants, from kindergarten to eighth grade, at the Kalmbach Arena as they compete and keep the “spirit of the West” alive in the Hoosier State. Since its founding, this organization has used rodeo as a platform for contestants to teach important values in a family-oriented, agricultural community.
“They saw the opportunity and the need to provide a safe place for kids to go and learn about the Western lifestyle and learn about rodeo with no judgment,” says SIJRA Treasurer Brittany Hostetler, Madison, Ind., describing SIJRA’s humble beginnings in a southern Indiana backyard.
While Indiana may not be the first place that comes to mind when “rodeo” is mentioned, there are several associations in the state that teach important lessons through the sport. Rodeo requires hard work, sportsmanship and having fun.
“It’s taught me to be independent and to think for myself,” says eighth grader Bekah Legan, Bargersville, Ind., when describing SIJRA. “To have all this responsibility like taking care of a horse, paying entries, going to check in and all of that has really come back for me.”
After competing on a national stage, Bekah transfers the skills she has learned to younger students. Parents like Craig Hostetler, Madison, have seen the unique value rodeo offers, as well.
“Rodeo teaches them responsibility and that there’s a reward for their hard work,” Craig says. His two boys, Trigg and Riggin, participate.
Other parents like Amanda Redden, Palmyra, Ind., say rodeo pushed their children past their comfort zone.
“Seeing the look on his face when he wins that event, the look on his face of ‘I did it,’ is just the best,” Redden says.
However, there is another value that competitors mention often. “We like to have fun, and we like to go fast!” says Paisley Brown, Palmyra. She and Emma Barnett, Scottsburg, Ind., were in complete agreement as to why they love rodeo. SIJRA has created a fun, learning-oriented environment by treating everyone as a member of the rodeo family.
Avery Mills, Louisville, Ky., smiles from ear to ear and waves her hands as she explains how exciting it is to be friends with K-2 Division Princess Addison Zoglmann, New Salisbury, Ind. The 10-year-old girls have very different rodeo experiences, and when Avery first came to the rodeo with little previous involvement, she was nervous about making friends.
She met Addie, and the pair became best friends — eventually competing in the rodeo princess contest against each other. But in the end, there could be only one winner.
“Addie won, and I was really excited for her … because I knew that she really deserved it!” Avery says.
“Even though somebody is going to win at the end of the year and they’re all competitors, they cheer for each other and they’re all friends,” says arena director Luke Henderson, Bedford, Ind. The junior from Bedford North Lawrence High School competed at SIJRA before moving on to high school rodeo. He returned to serve as arena director to make sure kids are safe and ready for their runs. He agrees with what eighth grader Shelby Ray Allen of Depauw, Ind., has to say about SIRJA.
“My favorite thing is the family atmosphere,” Shelby says. “Somebody is always willing to help.”
Shelby is finishing her last year in the association and has grown her skills immensely each year. She learned to focus on herself and lean on her friends for support because of the unique experiences they share.
“The boys all play a lot of sports, and you have your friends in other sports in school, but like, when you come to the rodeo with rodeo friends, it’s different,” Hostetler explains. “I think they make friends for life; I really do.”
Beginners and longtime winners
Branton Hinkle, Pekin, Ind., won the Mini Bull Nationals in 2021. Every contestant loves to compete with friends, regardless of experience or competitive level.
An alumna of the association, Hylton Brumley, Lanesville, Ind., also competed on the national stage before deciding to focus on basketball. However, she comes back to Kalmbach Arena to work in the announcer’s stand. “The people you meet will always be family,” Hylton says.
Rodeo opportunities are paid for through sponsorships. Sponsors who support the association are recognized with arena banners or can support an individual and receive recognition. Addie’s mom, Brittany Zoglmann, knows the importance of sponsors. “Sponsorship allows students to receive awards and show those off and be proud of their hard work,” she says.
For more information about how to be a sponsor or get involved in rodeo, visit sijra.org.
Hasler is a senior in agricultural communication at Purdue University.