HEARTLAND BOUND

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Five Valencia County rodeo riders will be representing the county and the state at the upcoming National Junior High Final Rodeo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday, June 22, through Saturday, June 28.

Submitted photo: FIVE VALENCIA COUNTY RODEO riders and shooters qualified for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo recently at the New Mexico Junior High Finals Rodeo competition. They are, from left, Marisela Sandoval, Lindsey Orris, Roberto Galaz, Hayley McNiel and Abbie Shofner. Galaz and Orris earned state championships at the NMJHFR — Galaz earned a title in shooting while Orris was named reserve state champion in goat tying.

Lyndsey Orris, 12, of Bosque, and Roberto Galaz, 13, of Los Lunas, both took home top honors in goat tying and shooting, respectively. Orris came away as reserve state champion in goat tying, while Galaz earned a state championship in shooting. He also finished tied for third in the breakaway event, qualifying him for nationals.

Abbie Shofner, 14, of Tomé, and Hayley McNiel, 13, of Los Lunas, and Marisela Sandoval, 13, of Bosque Farms, also qualified for the national competition, finishing in the top three of their events at the New Mexico State Junior High Finals Rodeo in Lovington at the end of May.

Submitted photo: Marisela Sandoval, of Bosque Farms, is among five rodeo riders and shooters from Valencia County going to the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Iowa next week.

Shofner qualified for the national event in team roping and breakaway roping, while McNiel qualified in barrel racing and ribbon roping. Sandoval also qualified for barrel racing and is looking to improve on her top-four finish at nationals last year. She also echoed the sentiments of all five Valencia County qualifiers in expressing her hopes for success.

“This year, I really hope that I will be able to bring home the national title of barrel racing and make my state and all my friends and family proud,” said Sandoval.

All five and their compatriots from Valencia County encountered wet conditions in Lovington for the state finals rodeo, something that made for an interesting weekend for them.

“The rain and the mud were quite a challenge,” Orris said. “When I found out I had made nationals I was so happy. I did better than I expected. I knew I had to have a great weekend to make it to nationals and I did.”

Sandoval and Shofner both said they were happy with their results, considering the conditions.

“I was nervous the first morning, seeing that the arena flooded,” said Sandoval. “I had never run on such sloppy ground. But my horse, Blitzen, really pulled through and gave me everything she had and carried me to nationals.”

Shofner was especially happy to qualify since she had to make due with a borrowed horse in the finals.

“I was hoping to qualify in breakaway and team roping,” she said. “This was extra special because my little heel horse, Max, who I rode all season, broke his leg the week before finals. Although the other horse, Widow (who she borrowed from Eddie Nieto) was great, I really missed Max.”

With state finals behind them now, all five are now looking forward to Iowa and hopefully bringing back top honors from the national competition.

“I think I did very well leading up to the Junior High State Finals and I feel it is an honor to be able to go to Iowa,” Galaz said. “My expectation for the national competition is to come in first place in both of my events and to be able to make new friends. And to have fun.”

McNeil, who said she had a “rough season” due to her horse being injured and taking time off to play basketball and volleyball, said she feels everything is coming together for her as she approaches nationals.

“It feels great to get through a tough season like I had,” she said, pointing to her “no quit” attitude. “My attitude has given me the confidence to become a national champion. Representing New Mexico is a great honor and I plan on making my state proud.”

This year is the 10th year for the national junior high divisions national championship, which was created by the National High School Rodeo Association in 2004. The first NJHSFR was held in Gallup. 47 states and provinces in the United States and Canada belong to the NHSRA, which sanctions the event.