Rodeo has been a tough road for Taylor Vernon.
A busted knee, an injured back, and a shattered toe have tested the 17-year-old from Maybell physically, while the loss of her horse two years ago is still affecting her emotionally.
But, it is the road toward next week’s state finals that keeps her practicing, and the thought of the national rodeo finals that pushes her even more.
When she is competing from June 17 to 20 at the Colorado State High School Rodeo finals at the Moffat County Fairgrounds, she knows she will have to battle in every event.
But, that is nothing new to her.
“I suffered from rheumatoid arthritis when I was younger,” she said. “It made it hard for me to keep up with the other kids, but I just worked harder and pushed more.”
That didn’t stop her from being able to ride a horse before she could walk.
“I grew up on a farm and have always taken care of horses and helped out,” she said. “I started doing rodeos when I was about 8 years old because it was kind of a family tradition.”
Many members of her family have participated in rodeos before her, including her brothers, Trent and Troy, and her mom, Janice, whom she considers one of her biggest supporters.
“My mom and my grandparents probably push me the most,” she said. “They travel with me and give me as much encouragement as I need.”
In rodeo, encouragement is needed to cope with all the injuries.
“I’ve had a few injures including my knee and my back,” Vernon said. “The worst was probably when I exploded the joint in my big toe while running barrels.
“They said it would take about three weeks to get back on the horse, but I did it in a week-and-a-half.”
Another bump along the way included the death of her barrel horse, she said.
“I lost my good barrel horse about two years ago,” she said. “Since then, I have been in and out of slumps.
“It is hard to stay consistent, but I just keeping pushing through to get back to where I was.”
The way she has been able to get back is with hard work.
“It is a lot of hard work,” she said. “I am out here practicing every day, no matter how hot it is or how hard it is raining.
“There is a lot of mental pressure that I have to withstand in order to do well. It is all on the individual to do well and perform because they put all the hard work in.”
Vernon said she usually practices three hours in a day. She said she tries to have time with all four of the horses she brings to the rodeos.
While many students play multiple sports during a school year, Vernon chose to focus on the one she enjoyed the most.
“I used to play basketball and volleyball, but the rodeo has always been my main thing,” she said. “I quit the other two so I could focus on rodeo year-round.”
During the winter months, Vernon said she uses her uncle’s indoor arena in Craig to make sure she can still get time on her horses.
When Vernon isn’t going to any rodeo events, she said the outdoors is where she wants to be.
“I like to hunt and fish,” she said. “During the summer, it is basically being outside either helping with the animals or doing some hunting and fishing.”
Before the 2010 Moffat County High School graduate can enjoy the outdoors, she has work to do.
As the oldest member of the MCHS rodeo team, Vernon will try to forge a path to the July 18 to 24 National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette, Wyo.
The state rodeo comes first, she said.
“I just want to go into the state rodeo like it is just any other rodeo,” she said. “I’m just going to try and get as many points as I can and hopefully I can make it to nationals.”
Even if she can’t make it to the national event, Vernon has already reaped the rewards from a lengthy rodeo career.
“Working with horses and preparing for the rodeo has definitely given me a better work ethic,” she said. “It gets me outdoors and working hard. That way, I don’t have the chance to get in trouble like other kids in high school do.”
Growing up a rodeo child has given Vernon ideas for the future as well.
“I received a rodeo scholarship to Northeastern Junior College,” she said. “I would like to do rodeos after college, but I am going to school for pre-veterinarian studies.”
No matter the amount of time she has put in and the hardships she has endured, Vernon said she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“The best part is I get to do what I love,” she said. “When I’m not doing it, I crave it. I wish I could be doing it all the time.”