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Cherryville Girl Chases Her Rodeo Dream

Like many 18-year-olds, CheridanGowan of Cherryville is going off to college this fall.  She’ even got a full-ride scholarship through her sport.  It’s not basketball, softball, or tennis.  It’s rodeo. She’s headed for Howard College, right in the middle of one of the most competitive parts of the country for rodeo, west Texas.

We meet Cheridan at the stables behind her house, where the fans are blaring to keep her horses cool in the summer heat.   She introduces us to Boogie.

“He likes attention, he’s probably the sweetest of all of them,” Cheridan says.  “He likes to give you kisses.”

Boogie is an 8-year-old quarter horse – the type of horse that’s good at running short distances.  Cheridan uses him for barrel racing, her favorite rodeo event.

“You have three barrels set up and it’s a cloverleaf pattern,” she says.  “It’s basically whoever can run and do the pattern the fastest.  If you hit a barrel it’s a five-second penalty.”

Cheridan’s been involved with horses and rodeo nearly all her life, starting as a little kid doing Western pleasure shows.  That’s a relaxed event, where horses are judged based on their manners and gait.  But soon Cheridan got the itch to go fast.  She started barrel racing at 7.

“I remember I had a friend whose grandmother said she was worried about me because I’d been hanging off and that horse would just be running,” she says.

Cheridan opens the back of one her horse trailers and reveals a stash of prizes she’s won over the years from competing in junior rodeo associations around the South: saddles, bridles, and stirrups.

She also wins cash. Last month in Wingate, for example, she took home $800.   And she’ll get her chance to win more money out west.  Unlike in college basketball or football, members of college rodeo teams are allowed to compete professionally for money while also in school.    They can become members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, or PRCA, which sanctions about 600 rodeos a year culminating in the National Finals Rodeo.  Jim Bainbridge is with the PRCA.

“[It’s] sort of our Super Bowl, our World Series,” he says, "which this year will be $10 million in prize money over a 10-day period.”

Competition to get there is fierce.  You have to be in the top 15 of your event, whether it’s bull riding, steer wrestling, or in Cheridan’s case, barrel racing and roping.

“We just had what we call cowboy Christmas, which is the single biggest week of the regular season,”
Bainbridge says.   “It’s the Fourth of July week.  And that week we had 32 rodeos and the prize money was just under $3.7 million.”

Bainbridge says most people who compete in rodeo professionally also have day jobs.  They need steady income to pay for the high expenses in rodeo - traveling and taking care of the horses.  Cheridan knows what she wants to do.

“I’m going to be taking dental hygiene,” she says. “I’ll be doing my schooling and have practice.  It’ll be a lot to keep up, but it’s just like any other athlete.”

She’s a little nervous about leaving home.  And really, Cheridan won’t truly be alone.  She’ll have her horses, including Boogie, by her side.

“I’ve said a lot, ‘I’d rather be with horses than people,’” she says.  “There’s just a special connection with them and you know horses are always there for you.”

They leave for Texas in a few weeks.