Following in her mother’s footsteps, Elli Rettinger has taken her talents in the rodeo arena all way to the top, placing second overall in pole bending at the Junior High National Rodeo competition in Lebanon, Tenn. June 18-24.
By COLE BENZ
The Slope County resident and soon-to-be freshman at New England High School, has been competing for nearly seven years after watching her mother, Brenda, compete in barrel racing.
“I saw my mom barrel race, and when I got old enough, she started taking me to the barrel races,” she said. “I decided I wanted a little bit more thrill, so I decided rodeo was for me.”
Brenda said now that she’s in the stands and not in the arena, she’s more excited.
“It’s more exciting for me to watch both of my kids compete and excel probably than it was for me,” she said. “But I also get more nervous, because I was in control of my own game, and I have to just trust that, just like life, [they] make good choices.”
During the regular season—which runs in August and September, and then April and May—Elli competes in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, wrangler roping, ski roping, and team roping. Elli told the Herald that her favorites are pole bending and goat tying.
“They come more easily to me,” she said.
Throughout the season the athletes are scored based on their finishes in their events at each rodeo. For instance, a 10th-place finisher scores one point, and a first-place finisher scores 10 points. In order to qualify for the state competition, which was held May 19-20, a rider must finish in the top 30 among the competitors. To qualify for nationals a rider must finish in the top four in the state.
Elli qualified for the state competition in most of her events, missing out on team roping. She ended her season with top 10 finishes in goat tying, ribbon roping, and barrel racing, and finishing in the top four in pole bending, earning her a trip to Tennessee. Brenda said there are about 50-60 kids in each event.
Getting to Tennessee, Elli was ready to compete.
“My mental game was actually the strongest it’s been,” she said. “And I was just thinking if I can get through and leave the poles up, I’ve got a pretty good shot.”
Brenda said she could see the intense demeanor in her daughter from the start.
“I thought she had ice water in her veins,” Brenda said.
Elli set a personal record during the first go at 20.3 seconds. The second run she split seventh and eight place with a run of 20.9. She took some time off the second run to make sure she didn’t knock down any poles to avoid a time penalty.
“Tipping a pole pretty much kicks you out of even the short go,” Brenda said. “That’s why she’s talking about trying to be safe and not tip.”
Elli’s final time in the short go—which only included the top 20 riders after two goes—was 20.652. The rider taking the top spot finished with time of 20.117.
When asked if there was something she could have done to close the gap on the first-place finisher, Brenda said she didn’t see anything Elli could have done better.
“I think that she executed perfectly,” Brenda said.
Brenda also said that she was impressed at her daughter’s composure, considering the big stage these junior high kids are put on at this competition. She said the environment was just electric, and they don’t hold back when it comes to the showmanship of the whole competition.
“It is a huge stage,” she said.
Unique to Elli’s work in the arena is the relationship she has with her horse, Sheza Sunny Command, nicknamed Giz. Their horse is a home-raised horse, which is unique when it comes to the stiff competition of the national stage. In most cases, the horses ridden during competition are raised in the horse sale market, bred and trained specifically for competition. But Brenda told The Herald that not only have they raised Elli’s horse on their property, but they actually own the mother too.
“It’s actually crazy rare,” Brenda said. “I don’t know how many home-raised horses were in the speed events, like the barrels and poles, but that might have been the only one.”
As Elli ages out of junior high and begins her high school career, she said she isn’t phased by the step up in competition.
“The times I ran at nationals would usually place me in the top three in high school rodeos,” Elli said.