Before the sun even rises, 18-year-old Braelyn Henry is in the rink with her boots on and reins in hand directing her quarter horse through a warm up.
Daily morning practices since the age of two is what has earned Braelyn the opportunity to compete for the third time in the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rocky Springs, Wyo.
“I practice early mornings and have to give up every weekend to do this sport,” said Braelyn, a 2013 graduate from Marana High School. “The more years I do it the more I love every little bit of it. I get to bond with the different horses and the more I ride the better I get.”
Brought up by parents who rode competitively and surrounded by horses day in and day out, Braelyn quickly found a love for riding.
“The sport is just always so interesting,” said Braelyn. “You get to go against other people, travel a lot and there are a lot of new experiences, which is exciting.”
Throughout the last 16 years, Braelyn’s competitiveness and desire to win has shined brightly through her accomplishments. In 2010, she was named Rookie of the Year and ranked in the top four for pole bending by the Arizona High School Association. During the next three years, Braelyn won a national title with the Arizona National High School team, was one of the top 10 in the nation in pole bending for the National High School Association and received numerous accolades at the local and state level.
Braelyn not only excelled in the rink, but also in the classroom where she took honors classes, one advanced placement class and completed her high school years with a cumulative 3.5 grade point average.
Arizona Team Cinch, an organization that honors elite cowgirls and cowboys for their accomplishments in the classroom and in the arena, recognized Braelyn’s hard work her senior year.
Along with the support of her family and friends, Braelyn says that she couldn’t have accomplished what she has in the arena without her quarter horse, Spring N Lena, who she has ridden since age five.
“When I ride her, she knows what to do before I even do it. She’s already one step ahead of me all the time,” said Braelyn. “I like pole bending the best because I get to ride her in it and we do well.”
There is no doubt that the two make a strong team. From July 14 to 20 Braelyn will stand among 1,500 competitors from Canada, Australia and 41 states at the world’s largest rodeo competition. Monetary prizes, college scholarships and a national title for each event will be given.
“I hope to get three clean runs,” said Braelyn, who will compete in pole bending. “In my short-go, which is the third-go I’d like to run a 19. The average is 20 seconds so I want to get just below that.”
After the national competition Braelyn will continue to ride at Cochise Community College where she will pursue a degree in animal science.