By Kevin Wilson
Both Hunter Haley and Joshua Walker will have experience on their side this week in Rock Springs, Wyoming. But both recent high school graduates and High School National Finals Rodeo veterans know it simply comes down to who makes the best runs in the big crowd.
Haley, a graduate of Elida High School, and Walker, a graduate of Dora High School, are each competing this week for their second and final time in the rodeo, which features more than 1,500 contestants from 42 states and a few other countries.
Walker will be competing for his second consecutive year in tie-down roping.
“It was fun,” Walker said of last year’s finals. “We got to meet a lot of good people. It was a big deal; the atmosphere was different. Competition’s always pretty strong wherever we go. You pull up, and there are so many people there from so many places. The atmosphere just changes when you get there.”
Haley, who plans to rodeo for Eastern New Mexico University next season, remembers the same thing when she was a sophomore.
“It was different, but it was a lot of fun,” Haley said. “It’s very different in Wyoming, with the temperature and everything. It was different ground, and I’d never been there before so I was lost.”
Finals participants qualify by claiming one of the top four places in their respective events. Walker finished second in calf roping at the state finals with a time of 9.47 seconds. Haley was third in breakaway roping with a time of 3.31, and finished second in goat tying at 9.34 behind Tatum’s Abby Medlin. This will be her second finals in goat tying.
Both rodeoers think they’re more able and confident than they were in their last NHSFR appearance. Haley said if she could talk to herself as a sophomore, she would say to stay calm; Walker would say the same thing, but he figures the junior version of himself would have been nervous no matter what.
“I was pretty excited,” Walker said. “There’s not much I would change, really. I’ve got more experience, and I’ve been in more situations. I’d say I’m a little bit better with my horses. I’m running three right now.”
Haley was almost joined in the breakaway competition by her younger sister, Madison. The freshman clocked a breakaway time of 3.46 seconds, just .08 seconds short of fourth place.
The sisters will still be together, as Madison is coming along as a spectator and aid.
“I’m taking two horses,” Hunter Haley said. “She can help me exercise them every day, get them out of the stalls. The stalls get pretty hot and muggy.”