When dedication rules out the limits of age and size in the rodeo
WHEN THEN-FOUR-YEAR-OLD Hannah Quarles saw her cousin riding sheep in a rodeo, she had a surprising reaction: She wanted to do it too. Hannah has been participating in the Central Florida Rodeo Association’s (CFRA) monthly events ever since, shares Hannah’s mother, Nicky Quarles. The announcer calls her Hannah Pretty-In-Pink because of her bright pink helmet and vest. “She gets out there and does it and she falls in the mud,” says Linda Miller, Hannah’s grandmother. “We do it rain or shine.”
Hannah is eight now, and she just moved up from calves to baby steer. The transition from sheep to calves was actually more difficult for Hannah than calves to baby steer, according to Hannah’s mother. “To her, the steer was more rideable than the calf,” Quarles says.
Hannah’s dedication comes from a couple of places: She loves animals and she loves doing activities with her cousin, Austin Abbott — the same one who convinced her to participate in the rodeo in the first place. She’s so dedicated that when she had surgery a few months ago, she still convinced her parents to take her so that she could support Abbott. She videotaped his ride and cheered him on from the sidelines.
And her dedication is reflected in the rankings. Last year, Hannah earned second place in points for her Tots Calf class. The CFRA offers a variety of activities for different age groups, according to CFRA founder Lynn Matthews. These include the Tiny Tots Class for five-year-olds and under, the Tots Class for children ages six to nine, the Junior Class for children ages 10-13 and the Senior Class for teens ages 14-19. Hannah has participated in both the Tiny Tots Class and the Tots Class.
Rodeo riders like Hannah celebrate at an end-of-the-season banquet, where division winners receive saddles, says Matthews. All children, regardless of their rankings, receive some kind of rodeorelated prize for their participation.
Matthews’ son actually earned a rodeo scholarship for college, which is Hannah’s plan too, according to Quarles. “She says she’s going to take the calf-riding (and) steer-riding as far as she thinks she can take it,” Hannah’s mom explains.
Participation isn’t just about scholarships and rankings, though. The rodeo events help Hannah socially by giving her a space where she can make friends and establish bonds with people who love the same things as her. It also gives her a chance to spend time around animals and learn about agriculture.
“She’s very shy, so it helps open her up,” Quarles observes. “And she learns self-control with the animals, (and) how to be around them without being scared.”
The rodeos aren’t just for Hannah — they’re a family affair, Nicky Quarles says. In addition to attending the events, Hannah’s family also raises funds and volunteers for the organization, a non-profit that primarily runs on sponsorships. “It keeps us all really close,” Quarles states. “We’ve got a big family activity that we need to do.”
Admission to the monthly rodeo events is free, and participants pay to ride and to be members of the CFRA. The next event is June 26 and 27 at 1140 Fish Hatchery Road in Lakeland. For more information on how to support the CFRA, visit www.centralflrodeo.com.
article by KELSEY TRESSLER