CARROLLTON, Ohio – Olivia Grimm is a queen, but not the kind who loafs around the palace eating ice cream and getting her toenails painted. Instead, she reigns by jumping off horses, tying up goats and wrestling steers.
Olivia was the 2005 queen of the Rocky Fork Rodeo Co. youth rodeo, where she participates in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, steer daubing, chute dogging and breakaway roping.
At 7, Olivia began her career barrel racing and pole bending at fun shows, but now the Carrollton High School sophomore expanded her rodeo repertoire to include some more rough-and-tumble events.
It may be unusual for a 15-year-old girl to spend her weekends scuffling head-to-head with beasts about four times her size, but Olivia feels right at home in a rodeo arena.
The self-made cowgirl began taking riding lessons at Straight A’s Arena in Minerva when she was 5. Her teachers were girls who participated in high school rodeos.
“They basically helped me get to where I am now,” Olivia said.
More to it. In addition to the riding lessons, the instructors also gave Olivia another valuable and long-lasting bit of information: There’s more to riding than just jumping on a horse. She learned that cleaning stalls, feeding the horses and taking care of the equipment are part of the deal, too.
During rodeo season, which lasts from the end of May to the first week in October, Olivia and her parents, Tom and Jeanne, spend every other weekend at the rodeo. The Rocky Fork Rodeo Co. is based in Kimbolton, Ohio, at the Rocky Fork Recreation Center. There are eight regular season rodeos, plus two rodeos for the finals.
At the Rocky Fork youth rodeo, participants accumulate points throughout the season. The participants are divided into four age groups – kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade, and ninth through 12th grade.
In 2005, Olivia earned more points than any other female in her division, winning the title of All-Around Cowgirl for ninth through 12th grade.
Adrenaline rush. Olivia said competes in the rodeo because it’s “kind of dangerous and unpredictable.” She also said it suits her better than more common high school hobbies.
“I’m not good at throwing balls and I can’t catch,” she said, but horses – now that’s something she understands.
Olivia currently owns two horses, Belle and Taz. She’s been riding Belle for two years, and she purchased Taz Jan. 21 and hopes to use him for barrel racing and possibly pole bending.
Tom Grimm says his daughter has developed a fan club of sorts over the years, making friends with complete strangers who go to the rodeo just to watch her ride. One of these friends is Mary Lou Rollins of Akron.
A couple of years ago, Rollins was spending a weekend at her cabin at Rocky Fork and the rodeo just happened to be going on at the same time, so she went over to watch. There, she met Olivia and her family, and now Rollins goes to Rocky Fork specifically to see Olivia ride.
“She’s awesome,” Rollins said. “She really is good at the rodeo.”
Integrity. But most impressive, according to Rollins, is Olivia’s integrity. When she gives her word, she keeps it.
“She is the most unique teenager I’ve ever met,” Rollins said. “In today’s world, you need to know a teenager like her.”
Tom and Jeanne purchased Olivia’s first horse when she was 7, but since then, the financial burden of Olivia’s hobby has been on her shoulders.
To support her horse habit, Olivia has painted houses, baby-sat, trained horses, milked cows, cleaned barns, cleaned houses, given riding lessons, worked at a grocery store and sold hogs. When she was younger, she even sold gum to her classmates at school for 25 cents a stick in order to make a few extra dollars.
Over the years, Olivia has purchased eight horses ranging in price from $500-2,500. She also makes her own decisions about which horses to buy and how to care for them, and is responsible for all of the tack, feed, lessons, entry fees, veterinarian bills and other items necessary for riding.
“Her determination she got from us, but as far as horse knowledge, she got that somewhere else,” Tom said.
Even though she competes against horses that cost far more than hers, Olivia simply sees it as more motivation to win.
No regrets. It’s been difficult to foot the bill, but Olivia said she is grateful for the lesson in responsibility.
“I wouldn’t go back and change my parents making me pay for it, because it wouldn’t teach me anything,” she said.
During the off-season, Olivia said she tries to spend one to two hours each day working with the horses. During the season, she spends two to three hours doing chores each day and she rides two to three times each week.
“Practice is 24/7,” she said. “You start practicing for next year the day of finals.”
Working with horses is a gift that just came naturally to Olivia. “I’ve always liked the challenge of working with something you can’t talk to. You have to be a part of it because you can’t make it be a part of you,” she said.
Other talents. In addition to her rodeo skills, Olivia also trains Haflingers to pull carts at Spring Valley Farms in Malvern.
“She’s not just good with horses, she’s the best,” said farm owner Ed Lusk.
According to Lusk, Olivia isn’t idle for a single moment when she is on the farm. If she isn’t training horses, she helps make hay, wash tractors, clean stables and do other farm chores.
“She’s an all-American girl,” Lusk said. “She’s just good; that’s all there is to it.”
Olivia enjoys the competition of the rodeo, but she also likes helping her fellow cowgirls and cowboys. She has even been known to teach her opponents a few tricks of the trade. Sometimes they end up beating her, sometimes they don’t. Either way, Olivia said her biggest competition is herself.
“It’s fun to win, but to me, if I go out and make a good run, I’m happy,” she said.
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Youth rodeo terms:
Rodeo events require a variety of skills from both rider and horse. The events listed here are timed, with the goal being to complete each event faster than any other competitor.
* Barrel racing. Three barrels are set up in a large triangle shape. Riders enter the arena at full speed, rounding each barrel in a cloverleaf pattern and exiting where they entered.
* Breakaway roping. A calf is released from a chute into the arena. The horse and rider are released from another chute immediately following the release of the calf. The horse runs the steer down while the rider attempts to rope it with a rope tied to the saddle by a small string. Once the catch is made, the horse stops and the small string breaks away from the saddle.
* Chute dogging. The competitor gets into a bucking chute with a 500- to 600-pound calf and puts his or her arm around the animal’s horns. When the chute door opens, the competitor tries to wrestle the calf to the ground as quickly as possible.
* Goat tying. A goat is tied to a stake with a long rope. Riders race their horse to the goat and jump off while the horse is still moving. The contestant throws the goat and ties three of its legs together. The legs must stay tied for at least six seconds.
* Pole bending. Six poles are set up 21 feet apart in a straight line. The horse and rider weave in and out of the poles as fast as possible without knocking any down.
* Steer daubing. A steer is released from a chute into the arena. The horse and rider are released from another chute immediately following the release of the steer. The rider carries a stick attached to an object that will leave a mark when it touches the steer, such as a tennis ball covered in baby powder. Competitors run down the steer and try to daub it as quickly as possible.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)