Rodeo is a tradition in 9-year-old Mickayla Bear Robe's family.
The Randolph Elementary School student travels to the National High School Finals Rodeo every year to see her aunt, Miss South Dakota High School Rodeo 2021 Tashina Red Hawk, compete in barrel racing and pole bending.
This year, she only had to travel to the Lancaster Event Center.
In addition to watching her aunt, Mickayla also looks forward to partaking in the Remarkable Kids Rodeo every year -- a simulated rodeo that makes classic events like roping and racing accessible to children with disabilities.
"It's a good experience for her to learn about Western heritage and get familiar with the rodeo environment," said Red Hawk, who lives on the Rosebud Reservation, on Wednesday.
This year, Mickayla enjoyed the rodeo expo trade market at the event center and, for the event, picked out her "cute cowgirl outfit," as her grandmother Noella Red Hawk put it. In her new Western wear, she slalomed through poles on a stick pony as her family cheered her on.
During the Remarkable Kids Rodeo, participants receive their own back numbers, while attempting to rope cattle dummies, run through barrels and poles with stick ponies and ride a faux bull pulled by volunteers. When finished, they all receive a goodie bag with prizes, including their own belt buckle.
"It's a traditional event for (the NHSFR) that's been going on for well over 40 years," said Stephanie Rodrigue, who coordinated this year's event with representatives from North Dakota, Ohio and her home state of Louisiana.
Rodrigue said organizing the Remarkable Kids Rodeo starts with doing local outreach in the host city. This year, in Lincoln, the coordinators reached out to autism centers, equine therapy programs and summer programs for kids with special needs. In addition to locals, siblings of rodeo contestants are also invited to join. There is no age limit.
"It's a chance for children with challenges to participate in what we all know and love about rodeo," Rodrigue said.
In total, the organizers prepared for 50 kids to participate in this year's event. The rodeo queens work the event as part of their service requirement, and sign autographs in addition to leading kids to each simulated event. It is also the annual project for NHSRA student officers.
This year, at least 75 rodeo contestants volunteered to work the event as well, showing kids how to rope and afterwards hosting a pizza party for them.
For Mickayla, the Remarkable Kids Rodeo is a chance to experience the rodeo activities in which her Aunt Tashina and mom, Whitney, both participated.
"She grew up watching her aunt as an ambassador for the Western way of life, and now she gets to participate in it," Noella Red Hawk said. "It's good for the mind, and it's good physical activity."
Noella A Red Hawk said that the Remarkable Kids Rodeo "makes all abilities equal" when it comes to learning about rodeo.
"She gets so excited about learning how to throw rope," Noella Red Hawk said. "It's cool to see the next generation grow up and learn these skills."
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