Elli has been riding horses and competing in rodeo since she was about five years old. She’s dreamed of a national qualification since she was a sixth grader at New England Public school.
The North Dakota Junior High rodeo division is a precursor program to High School Rodeo. From the NHSRA website: “Created in 2004, the NHSRA Junior High Division was established to bring the excitement of the sport to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and to serve as a feeder system into the high school ranks of the association. Today, all 48 states and provinces that belong to the NHSRA also produce a Junior High Division as well, with over 2,500 members in total now competing. Junior High Division students compete in a variety of events, including Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Goat Tying, Breakaway Roping, Tie-Down Roping, Chute Dogging, Team Roping, Ribbon Roping, and Junior Bull Riding, Bareback Steer Riding and Saddle Bronc Steer Riding.
Each summer, the “best of the best” from each state and province qualify for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo. Approximately 1,000 competitors show off their talents in the event and compete for thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes. Gallup, N.M., hosted the NJHFR from 2005 through 2013. The rodeo moved to Des Moines, Iowa, for 2014-15 and will be hosted by Lebanon, Tenn., in 2016-17.” Lebanon, Tenn., sits on the outskirts of Nashville and a mere 1,450 miles southeast of New England.
Only the top 4 finishers in each event, from each state, qualify. Each state is set up differently, and in ND, there are 10 rodeos in the school year, 6 in the fall and 4 in the spring. Points are awarded for the top 10 finishers in each event. The top 30 point-earning contestants in North Dakota qualify for state, which is roughly the top half in each event. North Dakota’s State JH finals were May 19-20 in Bismarck. Elli qualified for state in 5 events and finished in the top 10 in 4 of those events (Barrel Racing – 8th, Goat Tying- 6th, Ribbon Roping- 6th). She was the reserve champion Pole Bender and earned a spot on the ND National team.
The pole bending at state was a nail biter for Elli and her home-raised mare, Sheza Sunny Command, aka Gizmo. They went into state sitting second, behind by only 3 points. The pair made a smooth run that was good enough to win the first go of the finals on Friday night and bump them into the leading position. Saturday morning, May 20, began the second go. Elli and Giz came down the line with a full head of steam, inhaling the end pole to begin the first weave. Giz bumped the third pole with her hip, and it hit the ground, but the team continued their run with a slick turn on the end pole. On the way back up the weave, the mare leaped over the fallen pole, which sent her stride out of time and she missed the next pole. The result was a “no time,” which meant no points for the second go, and worse… there would be no average points for Elli and Giz. At state, there are a sought-after 40 points available, which can really shake up the leader board. There are 10 points for each of the first 2 go ‘rounds, 10 in the average and 10 in the short go. The broken pattern had cost 20 possible points.
Later that day was the short go. Elli was back in the second position, down 10 points from the leader. She needed a safe run, just enough to stay ahead of the four girls behind her, breathing down her neck for a coveted top four finish. When the gate cracked, it was clear that Elli did not intend to shoot for a “safe” run. She was rolling the dice for a silver Short Go buckle. Her mother held her breath for the entire run. The crowd did not– they were on their feet and making the run along with the determined rider and racing bay mare! When the timer stopped, Elli Rettinger and Sheza Sunny Command had run the fastest time of the entire weekend and secured their place on the North Dakota National Junior High Rodeo Team.
Elli also won the goat tying in the short go, with a smoking time of 8.06 seconds.
Sheza Sunny Command has more local ties. Her sire was a bay stallion owned by Dave Madler. Madler has a solid breeding program and the cross between the bay stallion and Rettinger’s good roan mare produced two money-earning foals, who are now 14 and 15 years old, respectively. In addition to pole bending, 14 year old Gizmo is also a competitive barrel horse and has also been used for goat tying.
There will be an Ice Cream Social Sendoff Party for Elli on Sunday, June 11 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the New England Lions Park. Everyone is welcome to attend to wish Elli the best of luck!