It’s not every day that you might spot a seven-year-old lasso a goat, jump off her horse, and tie the goat’s legs together in record speed—unless you’re at the Donaldson’s house in Everson.
This young cowgirl, seven-year-old Myra Donaldson, is often found on her family’s 20 acres training for her next competition with the Northwest Junior Rodeo Association (NJRA). She’s been competing with NJRA alongside her horses, Cash and Sis, since she was just two years old.
Since the late 1960s, kids aged 2 to18 have ridden with NJRA and competed across Western Washington in a variety of rodeo events. According to NJRA President Curtis Antill, around 130 kids from around Washington state travel and compete in rodeo competitions every year, from Sumas down to south of Olympia.
Antill and his family haven’t missed a rodeo in 11 years. He proudly describes the state’s only junior rodeo association on the western side of the mountains as being “open and friendly” to new members. “It’s time consuming,” Antill says of the work he does with the association, “but the kids are like family to us.”
It will come as no surprise that NJRA families are dedicated horse people. “The rodeo tends to be ingrained in our families,” Antill says.
Seven-year-old Myra has shown a natural talent for the rodeo—but she also has riding in her DNA. Like many of the families involved with NJRA, both Myra’s mom, Kelsy, and dad, Christopher, have been riding and involved in the rodeo since they could walk. Kelsy grew up on a dairy and beef farm alongside her parents, who also rode and jumped horses. She says she was destined to be part of the rodeo.
“It’s always been in the family,” Kelsy says, but it wasn’t until she met her husband, Christopher, that she got involved again in the rodeo community as an adult. They started their daughter out in competitions when she was a toddler.
While competitors can win special belt buckles, riding accessories, and cash prizes, Kelsy says one of the best parts of being involved in the rodeo is the huge Northwest Junior Rodeo Association community.
Kelsy says that even though it’s a competitive environment, kids root for each other. During events, she says that kids and families will be on the sidelines cheering on their friends, who are also their competition. “Everyone is striving for them to be better and to beat their personal records,” she says.
The NJRA splits competitors up into four age groups: buckaroos, pee-wees, juniors and seniors. For the youngest competitors, parents guide their toddlers around on the horses in their events. They learn quickly, however, and the pee-wee groups compete solo in their events; they also get to try out new events, like the goat competition.
“Goats can be wild,” Kelsy says. The goat competition can be tricky for young cowboys and cowgirls Myra’s age because it involves wrestling a goat to the ground, flipping them over and tying them up. “She’s little and for her to pick up a goat the size of her, and then turn them over on their side has been a learning curve, but she’s been doing super good.”
Myra’s favorite event is barrels because she likes the feeling when “the wind is in your face,” she says. Barrels is one of the two events, alongside roping, that Myra placed in at Finals during the end of August, which is the highest level of competition in which NJRA kids can compete and hopefully place.
While competitions occur during the summer months, training and riding for everyone involved in NJRA is a daily occurrence throughout the entire year. Some kids have personal trainers, but the majority are trained at home by their parents.
For graduating seniors who have participated with the NJRA for three years or longer, the association pulls together funds from their annual fundraising banquet to provide scholarships up to $1,000 for any type of higher education. Antill says that they don’t limit the scholarship to be applicable only to universities, as they believe many of their kids will continue to be successful through a variety of avenues in post-secondary education.
Myra says she hopes to be a professional cowgirl when she grows up. Thanks to the NJRA and the encouraging community surrounding her, she’s well on her way.