Local kids live rodeo dreams
Gracie and Addie Fairchild, 8 and 10 years old, respectively, are making a name for themselves in a big way.
Since the girls were 5 years old, they've been using "rodeo" as a verb, goat roping and barrel racing their way to belt buckle glory.
It's what they do and, if you sit down with them for an hour, they'll tell you it's all they want to do.
"It really is," Addie Fairchild laughed.
Their father, Chad Fairchild, is leading the charge.
"I've been involved in horses since I was a small child," he said, "but the High Country has never really offered or made available to younger people any kinds of opportunities."
While he's recently been picking up the pace, he'll tell you his rodeo career was dotted with missed opportunities.
Until kids like his started a junior equestrian trend. "I'm now living my dream through them," he said.
And feeling the inspiration.
This week, Chad Fairchild is in Las Vegas, competing in a rope competition. His 3-year-old son, Bridger?
"He's already riding," Fairchild said.
It helps to have two big sisters with more belt buckles than they have belts.
For the Fairchilds, rodeoing is truly a family affair.
"It's just like football," he said. "In order to win, you have to have the best athletes."
But there's a big difference.
"With rodeo, it takes two: The rider and the horse, and they have to work together," he said.
And for Fairchild, it's not enough that his children win their belt buckles.
"It's teaching my children that if they're going to do it, they need to do it with equine integrity," he said.
It's not just a hobby. It's a lifestyle and, before they rope a goat, they have to care for their horses.
"It really shows them responsibility," he said.
And, like all coaches, he stresses safety. "You coach kids to do things the proper way," he said.
It's not the neck jarring, bull bucking you see on television. Junior rodeo is a less violent animal, with roping competitions and barrel racing.
"Three barrels are set up, kind of in a clover leaf pattern," Addie Fairchild said.
Then, competitors on horses ride around the barrels. "It's a timed event so you go as fast as you can," she said.
And she's fast. Check her sparkly belt buckle. It's one of more than 20 the girls have earned from rodeo prowess. That's a lot of accessorizing. Add in the saddles, and you've got the makings of champions.
When Gracie was 7 years old, she won the all-around championship in the Junior Southern competition. Addie, then 9 years old, was the reserve champion. It's a winning trend they've continued. Just last month, Gracie was named the reserve "all around" champion at the "super bowl" of junior rodeoing, the SRA Junior Rodeoing championship.
And it's not just the Fairchilds. Other junior qualifiers include Alex Vines, Maddie and Eli Colvard, Wyatt, Macy and Abby Keller and Andrew Critcher.
"Three years ago, none of these kids were competing in rodeo," Chad Fairchild said. "And now they're winning buckles ... I went for 30 years before I ever won my first one."
But it's not just about the competitors. If the equestrian trend continues, it could prove a huge economic boost to the region, Fairchild said.
The economy's already feeling the gallop. A junior rodeo earlier this year brought more than 1,800 spectators to the High Country. Rodeo is on the fast track to being the "it" sport, and it's not just about the buckles and the ribbons. "It offers college scholarships," Fairchild said.
As for their friends?
"My friend was just amazed at all of my horses and all the belt buckles I've won," Addie Fairchild said.
But it comes at a price. The girls train four days a week. When it rains, they trek to an indoor facility in Taylorsville. It's hard, repetitive work, not to mention the chores that go along with working with horses, but they wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's just what I want to do," Gracie Fairchild said.
While both girls want to grow up to be veterinarians, they plan to keep juggling rodeo and school.
"It's hard sometimes," Addie Fairchild said. "It's a lot of work, but it's just really fun."