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Meet the Member Alyssa McFarland
story by Michele Toberer
Some turn away from rodeo competition because of difficult horses, or challenging issues, but Alyssa McFarland of Blairsville, Georgia is not one of them. Thanks to the incredible support of her parents, Kim and Jim McFarland, and her grandparents, Art and Debbie Miller, Alyssa has overcome obstacles and moved on from horses that didn’t work out, always with her eye on the goal of being the best barrel racer she can be. “This is a humbling sport, and I thank God for that! If I wasn’t faced with some of the obstacles I have been, I wouldn’t have been shaped into the competitor I am today.”
Not born into a rodeo family, Alyssa was born with a love for horses and a passion for rodeo came soon after. Alyssa’s parents are both social workers at Blue Ridge Psychological Service and live in town with Alyssa and her younger sister Madison. Her grandpa had horses growing up and set plans in motion for Alyssa to take lessons with a local friend on a pony named Cobalt when she was just 6 years old. “I learned the basics and branched out to speed events as we played around. I turned into a little speed monster, loving the adrenaline rush!” Alyssa remembers going to her grandpa after watching barrel racing at a rodeo, “I told him ‘this is something I want to do and work for.’ I loved seeing the girls on such powerful animals and the willingness they had to work together. My grandpa had the acreage and horse care knowledge, and the rest we learned together. My grandpa would watch big rodeos on television and would help me with improving my barrel racing techniques. He’s been my biggest coach all the way.”
Alyssa started competing in local saddle club shows and was able to build her confidence riding and gaining speed before competing in a local junior rodeo association as a seventh-grader. As a freshman, Alyssa began competing in the Southeastern Professional Rodeo Association, and had a frustrating rookie year on a horse with gate and alley issues. After working with him for two years, she and her grandpa traveled to Texas to purchase a horse to help achieve her goals. Once home, Alyssa realized they may have chosen the wrong horse, not feeling like she could connect with the horse’s style and spending the first part of the new SPRA season discouraged that she couldn’t get him to turn the first barrel. “My grandpa and I returned to Texas and Emma Abbott helped me with a sorrel mare named Shining Notoriously (Hennessey). She helped me level-up as a rider on such a powerful horse. I was able to run her at the Fort Worth Stockyards twice, which was an amazing experience.” Alyssa and Hennessey came back to Georgia with half of the 2018 SPRA season to go and were able to accomplish her goal of making the season finals, finishing the year in ninth-place. “I’m glad that I proved to myself there was a reason for all the other hardships, we are having a great year together so far, and things are only going up from here!” Alyssa recently ran Hennessey at a KK Run for Vegas race where the top-three earned a place at the Junior World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, and they placed fourth by just .085 of a second. “That’s how the sport works! I was still so proud of Hennessey and excited about our future! I appreciate Tali Patterson for helping keep my confidence boosted through all the horse switching and difficulties I’ve faced; and Emma for continuing to help me long-distance with Hennessey, I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
Alyssa stays very busy between senior classes at Union County High, exercising Hennessey after school, and working as a waitress at a local Italian restaurant. She does make time for involvement in the school’s theater department and enjoyed playing Jasmine in the musical, Aladdin, last year. “It was a cool experience to immerse myself into the role, and I practiced most of my lines in the truck on the way to rodeos!” She plans to attend Young Harris College next year and would like to study for a degree in journalism.