Mississippi cowboy heading to national high school rodeo in Wyoming

Published 1:53 pm Saturday, July 15, 2023

For the last 75 years, the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) has been the premier organization for young cowboys and cowgirls from around the country.

There are now 43 states with NHSRA affiliation, and the organization also has programs in Canada and Australia.

The payoff of the long high school rodeo season of any of these athletes is the National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR).

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This year, as last year, the NHSFR will be held in Gillette, Wyoming and one Lincoln County cowboy will be competing to be a world champion in the team roping event there over the next week.

Brady Garner is 18 years old and is a recent graduate of Crossview Learning Center. The son of Chan and Brandie Garner, Brady is competing with the best of the best in Gillette for a second straight year.

In roping lingo, Garner is a header on his two-man, two-horse team. As the header, his job comes first as he throws his rope from horseback at the horns of a steer as it shoots out of a gate.

If Garner is successful with his throw, he’ll wrap the end of his rope around his saddle horn, that’s called a dally, and will then pull the steer’s head around while his teammate, the heeler, moves into position.

For Garner, his heeler is Tyler Porter of Franklinton, Louisiana. Porter aims his rope toss for the back two legs of the steer and if he’s successful and they’ve stretched the steer out to show that he’s not going anywhere, the clock stops.  The fastest team to cleanly complete that action wins.

Garner and Porter will have their first go-round on Sunday night in the opening rodeo performance of the week. They won’t compete again until the following Saturday (July 22) when the pair is set to rope in the morning rodeo session of that day.

There are a total of 12 performances between Sunday evening and the following Saturday morning.   Events held in each of those performances include barrel racing, bareback bronc riding, cutting, breakaway roping, bull riding, goat tying, pole pending, reining, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping.

The top 20 competitors in each event will then qualify for the championship flight, called the short go-round, which starts at 7 p.m. on July 22.

Last year, Garner made the short-go with his then teammate Kannon Nunnery and finished no. 15 in the world.

Dubbed the “World’s Largest Rodeo,” the NHSFR has approximately 1,500 combined contestants from all over the United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.

The 2022 rodeo was one of the best attended events in NHSFR history, but Garner said he didn’t feel much pressure when he competed in the Cam-Plex Event Center for the first time in Gillette.

“You’ve just got to treat it like any other rodeo,” said Garner. “Most of the people there watching are the family members of the people competing. It’s just rodeo 24/7 all week long.”

Garner comes in on a hot streak after recently winning another big rodeo, the Little Britches National Finals in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

In that rodeo, Garner was paired up with heeler Colby Willard of Etta, Mississippi.

It takes a team effort to bring all the gear, including two roping horses, that Garner will need on a road trip that will cover over 1,500 miles between the family barn in Lincoln County and Gillette.

“The plan is for us to drive 10 hours on our first travel day and then we’ll stop somewhere in Missouri,” said Garner. “We’ll stop 2-3 times each day to water the horses while we’re fueling up and we’ll also get the horses out to walk around at some point each day too.”

The two trailer passengers, the ones that Garner can’t rope without, are named Cranky and Yellow.

Riding horses is what Garner does for a job right now.

“I’m working right now for Stran Smith, riding horses all day,” said Garner. “My daddy always had horses when I was a kid and he brought home a pony for me when I was little. I’ve been riding every chance I can ever since then.”

The long trip to Gillette is the culmination of a Mississippi High School Rodeo Association schedule that began back in September of last year.  There are 15 different rodeos on the schedule which lead up to state finals in June.  At that event in Hattiesburg, Garner and Porter finished third in the state. The top four competitors from each event punched a ticket to Gillette.

Garner’s future career plans include enrolling in the Electrical Lineman Program at Co-Lin.

He’s got plenty of rodeoing left in his future, but he’d like to have a strong showing in his final go-round at the NHSFR.

“They call this one the worlds, you know,” said Garner. “It doesn’t get any bigger in high school rodeo, but I’m not going to be nervous. I’m just planning on doing my best and having a good time.”