TEUTOPOLIS - Four lousy points. That’s all that separated Kelsi Haller and a spot in the national rodeo competition. Haller placed fifth in last year’s Illinois High School Rodeo Association barrel racing event, meaning she was just one place shy of heading to Rock Springs, Wyo. and a berth in the national finals. This year, the to-be junior at Teutopolis High School is bent on making up that ground, and will look to do so in front of a hometown crowd once again.
Held at the Effingham County Fairgrounds in Altamont, the state finals in all disciplines will take place Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and again at noon and 6 p.m. Saturday, allowing local riders like Haller a chance to shine under the primetime lights.
“I’ll have a lot more support,” Haller said of the close proximity. “I don’t have to drive six hours like some participants.”
Haller didn’t begin entering competitions until the seventh grade, when an early passion for horses began to turn into something much more.
“I was into horses already, I just did trail rides and stuff,” she said. “I asked my parents if I could start barrel racing, and I found the junior high rodeo. I got started in that, and now I’ve moved up.”
It didn’t take long for Haller to make an impact. In 2010, Haller advanced to the National Junior High Finals Rodeo by placing fourth in the pole bending discipline as an eighth grader.
As her skills and talents have grown, so have her ambitions. Haller will be entered in four different disciplines, barrel racing, pole bending, cutting and breakaway roping. She even has her eye on Saturday’s Rodeo Queen competition.
Yet her best event is still barrel racing, the one event that sprung her passion a few short years ago.
“That’s what I know how to do,” she said. “That’s what I’m best at.”
Haller will look to get the best out of her nine-year-old horse Ruby, who has had some recent trouble keeping a clean bill of health.
“My horse has been having kind of a bad spring with injuries,” Haller said. “If your horse gets hurt, you never know.”
If their practice regimen is any indication, Haller and Ruby could be a very formidable tandem. Haller practices for roughly two hours a day, five or six times a week, making sure her horse is in top racing form.
“It’s conditioning, pattern practice, keeping your horse loose,” she said. “They’re athletes, you’ve got to keep them in shape.”
The state competition for barrel racing features the standard pattern with three barrels, where horses can go right or left at the run’s start. Haller’s long year of preparation will come down to an event that takes well under 30 seconds. In a flash, she will know if Ruby’s health—and her riding—are good enough for a nice getaway trip out west.
“Hopefully we can pull it back together and get up to the top four,” she said. “The top four go to nationals.”
Cowden’s Douglas Rich will also take part in the week’s festivities, which begin on Wednesday with the Rodeo Parade in downtown Effingham.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at email@example.com