When Rebekah Christian made it to the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2006, she was surprised. When she made it again this year, she was even more shocked.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I'm glad I accomplished it," said Christian, an 18-year-old Faith Academy graduate from Covington. "I'm saying, 'Wow. I've done this all four years of high school.'"
Her mother, Tina Lovell, said most girls who make it to the national competition are considered lucky when they make it once. To make it twice is even more of an accomplishment.
"I am very proud of her and all of her hard work," Lovell said. "She was up every morning before school taking care of her horse... I've taken her to every rodeo, and I wouldn't miss it for the world."
To make it to the 2008 National High School Finals Rodeo, Christian competed this past year in about 28 Georgia rodeos in pole bending. Pole bending is a timed event in which a rider must weave a horse in and out of six poles arranged 20 feet apart in a line. Christian completes an average run in about 21 seconds.
After accumulating points all year long for her strong time, she was the fourth highest scorer in the state, which allowed her to compete in the finals with the three other top female participants. Christian, her horse, Lightening, and her mother will travel to Farmington, N.M. for the competitions July 20 through 26.
While Christian will compete in a variety of pole bending matches during the week to try to place in the finals, she said she's happy just to attend the event.
"I just want to go see the sights (in New Mexico) and see what New Mexico has to offer," she said. "I watch (other competitions at the rodeo) too. They make it fun for spectators."
To prepare for the rodeo, she's been trying to keep the 20-year-old Lightening in shape by making her exercise and giving her vitamins.
"She's getting old, but if you take care of them, they take care of you," she said. "You get a horse, and it's a team effort."
Christian said she will miss participating in the high school rodeo competitions, since this is her last eligible year to compete.
"The friends you make and the good times you have with them - I'm getting kind of sad," she said.
Friends is what got her into rodeo competitions in the first place.
"I learned about a rodeo from a friend at school - I went to a couple of competitions with her and it was fun, so I said 'I want to do that,'" she said. "I've never been into basketball or cheerleading - that's not for me; I want to get in and get dirty."
When she returns home from the competition, she will go back to her job at Hair Motif in Conyers, where she is apprenticing under her mom to become a hair dresser.
"I've worked with (the other employees) almost five years; they've become part of my family," she said.
Even though she won't be able to compete on the high school level anymore, Christian stills plans to ride horses and compete in other open shows. After all, she's been riding since Santa brought her a horse and competing since she was 8 years old.
"I've always loved horses; I always brought home books from the library," she said. "I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have a horse."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.