For Abi DePriest practice pays off with trip to National Junior High Finals Rodeo

Tenaha area teen and her horse Maverick heading to South Dakota

Abi DePriest may be a high school freshman, but the Shelby County teenager knows well what it takes to rise to the top of her chosen endeavors.

DePriest has discovered an outlet she enjoys and that she is willing to invest her time and effort in — rodeoing.

“Practice makes perfect,” said the Tenaha area young woman. “It does pay off.”

For DePriest the big payoff came recently while competing with other cowgirls from across the state in the Texas Junior High Rodeo championships in Gonzales. Not only did she excel there, but she earned herself at trip to nationals later this month in Huron, South Dakota.

She will be competing in pole bending as a part of the Texas National Junior Rodeo Team in the 15th annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo.

“It's pretty exciting,” DePriest said of cinching one of four spots representing her state at nationals. “The top four in each event get to go to nationals.”

From property between Center and Tenaha that has been in the family since the 1890s, DePriest can often be found spending hours in the saddle atop her prize winning horse Maverick. She has been riding horses since she was two-or-three years old.

DePriest already has several years of rodeo competition under her belt. While pole bending is the sport which earned her a trip to nationals, that is not the only event she excels at.

Barrel racing, goat tying, ribbon roping, black rifle shooting and more are among the events she routinely has competed in.

“I enjoy all of them, it's hard to pick just one,” she said when asked what her favorite event is. DePriest started participating in the junior high rodeo circuit when in the sixth grade.

At the state junior high rodeo finals she placed 16th in barrel racing, 7th in the first round of ribbon roping and 7th in light rifle shooting out of 72 boys and girls competing in that sport.

Pole bending competition takes traditional barrel racing to another level as DePriest races not only around a set course of weaving in and out of six poles which are placed 21-feet apart while being timed.

Instead of having three obstacles to ride around in barrel racing, in pole bending there are 12 obstacles, she said.

Like with her other sporting activities, pole bending takes a lot of practice. During the school year DePriest said it was not unusual for her to get into the house around 10-to-10:30 p.m., from riding and practicing.

She and Maverick have been partners in the arena since DePriest was seven. While they have had lots of barrel racing experience behind them, advancing to pole bending came a little later in her young rodeo career.

She and her family searched a couple of years trying to find a horse that would be good at pole bending. Finally, DePriest decided to work with Maverick to see if he could adapt to a little different routine.

He did. DePriest said she initially tried Maverick out for the poles as a practice routine and he adapted.

“We searched for a good pole horse for probably two years, but he's been here all along,” she said of Maverick. “There are certain horses that will fit you and certain ones that don't.”

Looking toward the future, DePriest plans to continue her riding at the high school and then college levels. She also plans to play volleyball and golf in high school while continuing her focus on keeping up her grades at Carthage High School over the next four years.

Her favorite subject is math.

“I just like working with numbers,” DePriest said. Her mother teaches at Carthage ISD while her father is the agriculture instructor at Tenaha ISD and he has also taught math and science.

DePriest's vision is to earn as spot on the Panola College rodeo team under coach Jeff Collins and then continue riding after that as her college career advances.

At nationals, which will feature roughly 1,000 contestants from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico, she will be competing against the top cowgirls in the world at the junior high level.

In addition to competing for more than $80,000 in prizes, NJHFR contestants will also be vying for more than $200,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named a National Junior High Finals Rodeo World Champion.

To earn this title, contestants must finish in the top 20 — based on their combined times/scores in the first two rounds — to advance to Saturday evening's final round.

World champions will then be determined based on their three-round combined times/scores. New this year is a $50,000 added money, optional jackpot, available to everyone at finals who cares to enter.

DePriest said at nationals she will be competing against about 165 others in pole bending.

The Saturday, June 22 championship performance will be televised nationally as a part of the Cinch High School Rodeo Tour telecast series on RFD-TV. Live broadcasts of all NJHFR performances will air on: www.RidePass.com. Performance times are 7 p.m. on June 23 and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day thereafter.

To follow DePriest at the NJHFR, visit www.NHSRA.com daily for complete results. For ticket information and reservations, visit www.sdstatefair.com.