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Paving New Paths
story by Cassandra Robledo
The International Miniature Rodeo Association is an association specializing in miniature bucking bulls and horses that is paving the way for children who show interest in roughstock events. This association started with the goal to bring competitors back to these events.
“Keith Wooten and I started the IMRA because we saw a shortage of contestants in the roughstock events,” said Mike Latting, owner of the IMRA. “The amount of entries for these events were going in a downward spiral and it is important for us to get young kids interested in the sport again,” he said.
There are currently more than 70 qualifying rodeos spanning from Canada to Texas, according to the IMRA. The same rules apply to the junior rodeo contestants as they do for adult contestants. Contestants choose to ride either mini-broncs or mini-bulls for eight seconds using one hand and the mark out rule still applies.
“Since beginning the IMRA, we have noticed an increase in contestants,” Mike said. “Kids that would have never been interested in the sport before are now entering.”
In January of 2018, the IMRA had their first finals in conjunction with the International Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, Mike said. During the IFR, children who qualified for the IMRA finals got the opportunity to compete in the same setting as their heroes.
“The crowd loved it,” Mike said. “The public has really endorsed the association and really gets enthused when those kids come out.”
To qualify for the IMRA finals, contestants must attend the minimum of five qualifiers, Mike said.
“There are a lot of different rodeo associations these days,” Mike said. “That is why we only have five mandatory qualifiers, so kids can go compete at different associations.” “We want these children to be successful,” he said.
Age groups range from four year olds to 18 year olds, Mike said. Just like any other sport involving the younger generations, safety is the number one priority. Kids are required to wear a safety vest and helmet and the livestock are categorized into the different age groups depending on their athletic ability, Mike said.
“As adults we are responsible for the well being of these kids,” Mike said. “We would not want to put them in danger.” “In order to cut down on the danger factor, we have to match the kids to age appropriate livestock,” he said.
Lazy J Safety coordinator, Merrill Jolley, does everything in his power to make the event as safe as possible.
“Safety is our number one priority,” Merrill said. “When this event began, I knew parents would seek out the newest and safest equipment on the market.” “I made it my job to make it for them,” he said.
Merril began Lazy J Rodeo Safety Equipment because of his own rodeo wrecks that, at one time, left him with temporary paralysis.
“We have done the research and have retooled a lot of our equipment specifically for mini bronc saddles, mini bareback riggings and mini bull ropes,” Merrill said. “We are all about the safety aspect for both humans and animals.”
Lazy J Safety Equipment has a ‘professional stamp of approval’ benefit to it, Merrill said. Before beginning production for any equipment designed for children, pro rodeo professionals like Cody Wright and his brothers use the equipment first and tell Merrill what they like or do not like. This process is done in order to make sure the product passes all tests before being mailed to children across the United States, Merrill said.
Young children are not developed enough physically for these events. However, as long as a stock contractor does their best to match the livestock’s athletic ability to the ability of each age group, children can continue to grow like they are supposed to, Mike said.
“If these stock contractors bring in the right caliber of livestock for kids then they can still ensure success in the future,” said Jed Moore, Colorado Northwestern State College rodeo coach. “We cannot be too tough on them though, because kids will get burnt out real fast.”
Jed hosts Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association youth rodeo camps throughout the year. In recent years he began implementing all roughstock events instead of just bull riding.
“We have had to turn kids away because there are so many wanting to attend our clinics,” Jed said. “We go through an application process and since we began implementing all three roughstock events we have seen a significant increase in these young riders which is awesome.”
During the youth rodeo camps, every contestant undergoes the same basic training to improve their skills, working from the ground up. Then kids are matched to the livestock based on ability and age.
“The kids go through the same training as adults would during our clinics,” Jed said. “We do everything to prepare them physically.”
Although roughstock events are not easy, the kids entered in these events have a different mentality than most, said Cody Ward, owner of Ward Rodeo Co.
“Rodeo is not easy but you want to challenge them,” Cody said. “These kids cannot be scared to hit the ground; they need to be aggressive.”
Cody raises miniature horses and said there is a huge difference is raising miniatures versus regular sized horses, and it is more than just the size difference.
“When you are breeding regular bucking horses,” Cody said. “The more rank they are, the better.” “In the miniature deal, you are breeding these animals to suit the skill level of the riders,” he said.
Miniature bulls can weigh anywhere from 400 to 600 pounds, but the size of the bull or horse does not matter in these events, Mike said. He said there are cases where a larger bull will not buck as hard so they put that bull in a lower age group to suit the riding ability of someone else.
Although the event itself is not new to rodeo, the IMRA and Junior National Finals Rodeo are bringing the event to a bigger audience.
“When I started this deal I never thought we would send kids out to Las Vegas or Oklahoma City,” Cody said. “That is my favorite part, seeing these kids get better and progress throughout their careers.”