Note: This story appears in the Friday, Aug. 9 newspaper on Page A1.
Kayla Keller settled onto her horse, waited for the indication to start, then took off.
It’s the speed of the breakaway roping event she likes the most. Riders have just a few seconds to throw a lasso around a calf within the rodeo ring. There’s pressure, too: riders are allowed only one toss of the rope.
“It’s super quick and I love the adrenaline of it,” Keller said, adding that she was grateful for her chance to compete in Athens County. “I’m super thankful for any community that supports breakaway roping because not every competition allows it.”
It was the wild, wild west on West Union Street — for a few hours, anyways — as the county fair played host Wednesday to the annual rodeo competitions.
The night was filled with cheering spectators and plenty of daring riders looking to put on a show.
Among the performers were three proud cowgirls, whose rodeo lives are defined by love for competition, a passion for horses and a strong community. Keller has been involved in rodeo events since she was young, and often attended rodeos with her family while growing up. Keller now competes in breakaway roping and ultimately ended up victorious in Athens, placing first in the event.
Alicia Kilgus, who competes in the barrel racing events, has also been involved in rodeos since she was young. Her family frequently attends rodeos, and she has been riding horses all her life. For her, passion for her animals is still the highlight of the rodeo experience.
In her event, competitors guide their horses around a pattern of barrels in the ring and race to get the fastest time.
“Getting to see the horses and (be around) the love of horses is my favorite part,” Kilgus said.
Kilgus travels all over the country competing in rodeos, and enjoys getting to move around. But her visit to the fair was particularly meaningful, since she is no stranger to the Athens area.
“I went to Ohio University for a little bit, so it’s kind of a homecoming,” Kilgus said.
Lexi Huffman is a bit newer to rodeo life. This is her third year competing, though her family has always owned horses. Huffman also competes in barrel racing events, something she loves because of the speed and the time she gets to spend with her horse.
Much like Keller and Kilgus, Huffman said she loves to compete and travel to new places. More than anything else, it is the animals and the community that define the sport of rodeo for Huffman.
“The horses are my favorite part, but I also really love the people,” Huffman said, “Everyone is so nice and so helpful.”