CHARLES CITY COUNTY, Va. -- The first rodeos were organized for cowboys in the Old West to compete against each other doing the things they needed to do for their jobs, but today rodeos have become a big-money, televised sport with a following that rivals any of the major sports in North America.
And just like counterparts playing Little League or travel soccer, one Virginia teenager has hopes of joining the big leagues one event at a time.
Brandy Slaughter, who has been involved with rodeo for about 30 years, totally understands the perception that those who race horses and rope livestock might not be the most sane among us.
“We're rodeo people. We're nuts,” Brandy Slaughter said. “It's a life for us. It's a lifestyle. Just like baseball and football and soccer. It's like your travel team. That's what we are.”
It was natural that her children would follow in her footsteps -- even if she didn't push them in that direction. Even her daughter Charly, whose introduction to horses didn't have the best of beginnings.
“There was a time I didn't think she'd have anything to do with horses when she was growing up,” Brandy Slaughter recalled “She started riding when she was 5, and it was OK. By the time she was 7, she liked it a little more. But it really hit her when she was in fifth grade that she wanted to do this.”
Charly got bit by the rodeo bug when she started calf roping, trying to tackle animals bigger than she was, in grade school.
“I'm on a horse when I'm doing it, so it's a little bit easier, but it was not easy at all,” Charly said.
But as with any other sport, Charly discovered that practice does in fact make perfect -- or at least closer to perfect. Her awards and trophies suggest she's getting closer all the time.
“Four saddles, 32 buckles, countless breast collars, halters, prizes, anything you can name,” Brandy Slaughter said. “I don't want to think about the money she's won, because it's all spent anyway.”
Belt buckles are the biggest prize in rodeo, including the one Charly won this past year for being the best in the state of Virginia.
Charly admits getting nervous before events until she attended a larger event in South Dakota that was televised. It was there she learned that she could be competitive against other teens from all over the country. Her nerves went away, but her mother's nerves are a different story.
“I feel like I'm going to throw up every run, not gonna lie,” Brandy Slaughter said. “My nerves hit me about three people before she goes in there. I'm pacing, and walking and screaming and yelling like a crazy banshee on the side.”
And there's an obvious danger to all of this just like any other sport.
“It's not if you're going to get hurt, it's when and how bad and how long will it take you to get back into it,” Brandy Slaughter said.
“I was goat tying and I fell and flipped over,” Charly recalled. “And my neck, we're not sure what happened, but it made two vertebrae pop up. And I'm still walking.”
And any cowboy is only as good as his or her horse. Charly has Caramel, who checks all the boxes of a great partner.
“They just have to be not scared of anything,” Charly explained. “They have to be willing to just go in and do it, stay controlled and not lose their mind.”
Which also describes how Charly steadies herself as well. She recently qualified for the National High Schools Finals Rodeo in Nebraska by finishing in the top four in the state in four different events. It was another step toward where she has always hoped the sport would take her.
“I don't have a reason why I do it, I just love it. It just makes me happy,” Charly said. “It's a lot of fun, and it keeps you out of trouble.”
“Breakaway has just hit it within the last year of being a huge event for women,” Brandy Slaughter said. “It's major that it has come this far because that gives her nothing but a better opportunity to get out there and get it done.”
Charly recently returned from the national event in Nebraska where she unfortunately suffered a hand injury that kept her from doing better.
However, she did place in the top 30% in two events and already has plans to qualify for next year's finals in Wyoming.
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