The Walla Walla Valley Rodeo Team is brand new to the Walla Walla area.
Formed in January 2022, the team was created to provide local kids in junior and senior high school with the opportunity to gain rodeo experience, make friends and more.
The team will hold its first annual rodeo at the Milton Freewater Pioneer Posse riding ground from April 29 to May 1, where people can watch a variety of rodeo competitions.
The event was scheduled to take place at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds, but due to recent weather conditions in Walla Walla, the fairgrounds are too wet for the rodeo.
Events will begin Friday, April 29 at 10 a.m.
The weekend will also include a silent auction to help raise funds for the club, food vendors and local shops.
Saturday and Sunday rodeo events will begin at 8 a.m.
The whole weekend is free to the public.
Sunday morning will include a church service at 7 a.m., before the day’s events.
The competition will feature approximately 250 competitors from across the state from middle and high school rodeo associations.
Fans attending will be able to see a variety of events including bareback riding, bronc saddle riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team rope, calf rope, the breakaway rope, the barrel race, the pole bending and the goat tether.
The junior high division, which includes members in grades five through eight, will compete Friday, while the high school division competes Saturday and Sunday.
Members compete within their division, so fifth-graders could play eighth-graders and high school juniors against seniors.
Children participating in the weekend events will try to earn their place in the national event at the end of the season.
Each state has a middle school/high school rodeo association within its state, so members of the Walla Walla team are part of the Washington State High School Rodeo Association.
They are also all members of the National High School and Junior High School Rodeo Association.
There are four rodeo events members can attend in the fall and four in the spring.
When participating in an event, children accumulate points based on their ranking in their events. At the end of the season, they make it to the state finals, where they all compete for the top four spots in their state lead and compete in the National High School Rodeo.
This year’s National High School Rodeo will be held in Gillette, Wyoming, said Kacey Gartner, one of the founders of the Walla Walla Valley Rodeo team.
Gartner, along with other parents and rodeo enthusiasts, formed the group as a non-profit organization so they could produce a rodeo for young people in the valley.
All proceeds from this event will be used to support team members.
Money raised will go towards renting an indoor facility over the winter so kids can practice their skills and improve their rodeo knowledge year-round.
To help alleviate the myriad of costs associated with hosting a rodeo, the team collected sponsors to raise funds.
Funds raised will also go towards livestock costs, facility costs, judges and announcers for competitions and many other expenses necessary to ensure the success of the event.
Since the team started with nothing in the bank account and many expenses to pay, team members were asked to pay a membership to join the team.
The kids also came out to ask various local businesses if they would like to sponsor the team to help fund the non-profit organization.
“We have amazing businesses here in Walla Walla that are thrilled to support and sponsor children,” Gartner said.
Team sponsors are advertised on the Walla Walla Valley Rodeo Team Facebook page, as well as through sponsor flags and banners throughout the city.
The local team kids are excited to compete in the upcoming competition, including high school junior Brody Pingree.
Pingree has wanted to participate in rodeo since he was little, he said, and loves the human side of the sport more than anything.
“The people, the environment, the friends more than anything,” Pingree said, when asked what he loves most about rodeo competition. “It really is a rodeo family – a family away from home – which is really nice.”
He first joined the rodeo team with his best friend and truly cherishes the opportunity to play the sports he loves and make friends and memories along the way.
Pingree, although he’s known he’s wanted to rodeo for as long as he can remember, started the sport three years ago when he entered high school.
The club is perfect for those with any level of experience, as it aims to include those from all walks of rodeo.
Gartner and her husband, Chance, both rodeo professionally and have two children who grew up rodeoing, she said.
Although his children grew up in this atmosphere and have experienced parents, not all members do.
“We have kids of all ages, which is a big part of why we wanted to start this local club,” Gartner said. “We knew we had kids who needed rodeo knowledge and help and we would love to provide that for those who rodeoed it professionally.”
Having well-trained mentors to teach the kids the ropes has been important to the team – to provide them with coaching and more hands-on experience.
“Rodeo is such an unnoticed sport,” Gartner explained. “There is a lot of responsibility for these children. The fact that they want to do it and show up and be part of it and do all the work…it creates such a good work ethic among young people right now.
Practices are held on Mondays and Wednesdays of each week so kids can get different types of roping experience and hopefully prepare for many more annual rodeo events in the Walla Walla Valley.