Young champion riding high

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She's stands all of about 5' tall on the ground, but she's tall in the saddle.

Tia Brannan sits atop her
roping horse, Pawnee, in the chute. A cascade of blond hair spills out from beneath a black cowboy hat. Her 14-year-old
muscles are tensed, and her eyes are filled with the intensity and purpose of a professional linebacker's.

At other times she's an honor roll student and a volleyball
player. At this moment, she's a champion cowgirl practicing for her next victory. Brannan recently captured the World Champion Junior All-Around honors at the Little Britches Rodeo in Colorado Springs.

Success comes from a simple formula, according to Brannan.

"Practice that's the main thing," she said. "If you don't rope or run your barrel horse, even if you're riding, you forget things, and you'll space out in the arena."

Brannan's dad, Gary, said she practices three hours a day, five days a week.

"We rodeo every weekend," said the champion's mom, Diane. She's been at that since she was eight, but that's not surprising Gary grew up on a ranch, Diane was in rodeo when she was younger, and Tia's older sisters, Tammy and Tonya are both rodeo riders.

The family works together, and Tia credits their support with much of her success.

"I owe it all to them (her
parents) and my sisters," Brannan said. "Rodeo is 100
percent teamwork."

Brannan's horses, Binky and Pawnee are an integral part of that team, and she works hard with them.

"I have a really close relationship with all my horses," she said. "First of all, you have to get their trust. They're like people they have to be comfortable with you."

Still, the young champion makes no bones about who's in the saddle.

"I'm in charge," she said. "Or at least I try to be. Sometimes they get excited, especially Binky, my barrel horse."

As Brannan guides Binky around a barrel in the arena, it is obvious the horse's spirit is up, but the determined rider, her eyes always fixed on some point out in front of her, keeps him reigned in.

Brannan rides in all six events in the all-around competition, and she made the short-go in four of the six in Colorado Springs. Still, she went into the finals in eighth place.

"There were 350 contestants, and she came in with 1,650 points," Gary said. "A girl with 2,000 points was leading."

That was a lot of points to make up, but Branan was undaunted.

"She's very focused ... very determined," Diane said. That focus and determination paid off in elation for the family, when Brannan overcame the 350 point challenge and claimed the
championship saddle.

"That was just the answer to a lot of prayers," Gary said. "I felt like she had the ability to win the all-around and three individual events." Brannan didn't win any individual event, but she finished strong enough in all of them to rope the big prize.

Of her six events, Brannan finds break-away roping to be the most challenging.

"You have to put so much more practice into it," she said. You have to have good timing, and you might draw a bad calf. A lot of circumstances go into it it's a new ballgame every time."

Her favorite event is the trail course, but she retired her favorite trail horse, Little Joe, last year. "It was really special to be in that event with him," she said. "When I don't have him, I guess I like goat tying the best."

The six rodeo events are not the only things filling up Brannan's life. She plays
volleyball, maintains high grades, enjoys writing and puts a lot of emphasis on friends.

Being well-rounded helps her maintain a healthy attitude, and keeps her from burning out on rodeo, she said. Her other outlets help her in other ways, too.

"If you feel good about yourself in volleyball if you come home and you're happy with yourself you have a lot more confidence in your ability to ride," Brannan said. She packs a lot of confidence into a small frame.Her faith is also a source of strength.

"Nothing is possible without Him," she said. "As a family, we have to keep together, and He watches over us and keeps us safe."

With that kind of support behind her, Brannan feels good about her next challenge. She must move up a division to seniors, so she'll compete against 19-year-olds.

"It's a big step," she said, "but I feel good about it."

It seems the 19-year-olds are the ones who should be getting nervous.

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