For Garrett Houin, now an upcoming senior at West Holmes High School, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was a slow time. So, like a lot of people, he decided to pick up a new hobby: competing in high school rodeos.
“I thought about how my uncle used to steer wrestle, and figured I would give it a shot,” he said. “Now, it’s a huge part of my life.”
Even though competing in rodeos was new to him, Houin, 17, has spent most of his life around rodeos. He grew up riding horses and showing them in 4-H. With that experience, support from family and friends and a lot of hard work, he’s learned a lot and improved quickly over the last couple of years.
This year Houin, of Lakeville, competed on Ohio’s team at the National High School Finals Rodeo, in Gillette, Wyoming, July 17-23. It is known as the “World’s Largest Rodeo” and draws more than 1,650 competitors from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.
“It was a great experience, and I loved being there,” Houin said. “I’m looking forward to team Ohio next year and seeing how things shake out.”
Houin’s family has been involved with putting on and competing in rodeos for three generations now, after his grandparents, Butch and Hazel Taft, helped found the Ohio High School Rodeo Association, which he now serves as the student president.
In that role, he helps with set up and tear down for rodeos, including keeping track of banners for the association’s sponsors, runs student meetings at each rodeo and sits on a board that decides where to hold rodeos and considers possible rule changes each year.
His uncle owns Buckeye Rodeo Company, which Houin’s grandparents also founded and which Houin currently works for. Those connections to family and family friends with rodeo experience have helped him learn and get help when he’s struggling with something, and find out about clinics with rodeo professionals who can teach him more.
“I’m really proud of the legacy my family has,” he said. “And it gives me a really good opportunity of not only knowing people and working with people, but also of learning about new opportunities to take advantage of.”
Houin competes in steer wrestling, light rifle, trap shooting and saddle bronc riding. For the national rodeo this year, he qualified in both steer wrestling and light rifle. He placed eighth out of 25 in one of his steer wrestling performances.
Each event at the rodeo has two rounds with competitors split up into several performances, or classes. The overall top 20 placers from the first two rounds advance to the final round and compete to be named National High School Finals Rodeo World Champions.
The Ohio team had several members place in the top 20. Isaac Miley, of Sarahsville, placed 14th in trap shooting, Eli Dimmerling, of Quaker City, placed 18th in light rifle, Jeffrey Carver, of Chardon, made the top 20 in the boys cutting competition and Cooper Smitley, of Uhrichsville, was in the top 20 for steer wrestling.
“We had a pretty good year, and a pretty good team,” Houin said.
At the rodeo, Houin also served as one of two social media ambassadors from Ohio, responsible for posting about events at the rodeo and how Ohio’s team members were doing, and as a member of the Cinch Team, which promotes the national association by organizing outreach events and also represents the Cinch brand at outreach events and the national rodeo.
It was his second year qualifying to compete at the national rodeo, but his first year actually going — last year, he had a schedule conflict that kept him from competing. This year, he was glad to go and meet with friends from Ohio and around the country. Houin has attended rodeo clinics in other states including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Texas.
“You get to see a lot of people that you already know if you’ve been around. It’s cool to get to see my friends and compete against them,” he said.
His favorite event to compete in is steer wrestling. He enjoys trap shooting and light rifle, but thinks steer wrestling is more exciting.
“It’s a physical competition between me and the steer,” he said. “I’m not a big dude … I had to work really hard to be able to even get steers down in the first place.”
Physical size can definitely be an advantage in steer wrestling, where competitors have to jump from a horse to a steer, turn or stop them and get them on the ground with all four feet in the air as fast as possible. Some people are able to muscle steers to the ground. Others, like Houin, have to focus more on technique.
“I have to use leverage … play it smarter and not harder,” he explained.
But in Houin’s opinion, anyone can do well in steer wrestling if they work hard and listen to coaching from people with more experience.
That’s why he’s spent so much time at clinics, and learning from family members who have years in the rodeo business.
“I just enjoy going all over the place and learning from people,” he said. “I’ve been told by a lot of people that if you can continue being coachable … it’s a huge thing.”
That’s his main goal. He’s heard from others with more experience in rodeos that some people get to a certain level, then develop an ego and plateau because they stop learning. He wants to continue competing as an adult, after his last year in the high school association, and is hoping to keep improving.
“I feel like if can continue to learn and improve at the pace I’m going at, I will be able to do well in the adult scene,” Houin said. “I just see my life really being connected to rodeo for the long haul.”
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