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.