Monroe grad on riding at rodeo nationals: ‘I love the adrenaline of it’

When recent Monroe High School graduate Lauren Heck competed at rodeo nationals for the first time two years ago, nerves kept her from doing her best.

Last year after qualifying again, she didn’t even get to perform because the morning before the competition, she and her horse were hit by a truck while riding along the road.

So, the third time is a charm, right? Heck is set to compete with Team Ohio at the Cinch National High School Finals Rodeo, which takes place July 15-21 in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

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“This is my comeback year,” Heck said.

Heck injured her leg, sprained her wrist and damaged nerves in her elbow when the truck hit her last year. Her horse, Lady, which she uses in the breakaway roping event, threw out her back and shoulders in the accident and suffered injury to her ribs.

Both fully recovered, and Heck will ride Lady in breakaway roping for a chance to be named NHSFR world champion. She’ll get another opportunity in the goat tying event with her other horse, Boomer. The national competition is considered the world’s largest rodeo, featuring more than 1,650 contestants from 43 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico.

“I worked so hard this year to make sure I would qualify and so I would be confident going into nationals,” Heck said. “I know I’m ready.”

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To qualify, Heck had to finish in the top four in the state in her events, based on accumulation of points from placement at 10 rodeos. The season begins in the fall and ends in the spring, and there is added weight to the final rodeo.

After leading the breakaway roping standings all season, she did well enough to hold onto the top spot in the final competition and qualified for nationals as the state champion. In her other event, she came from behind to finish as the goat tying state champion reserve (runner-up).

Breakaway roping is when the rider ropes a running calf with a string that is tied to her saddle horn and breaks as the rider pulls up her horse. The event is timed to the moment the string breaks, and many can do it within two or three seconds, according to Heck.

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Goat tying is an event in which the contestant rides 100 feet to a goat, then dismounts at full speed in order to quickly tie together three of the goat’s legs with a soft string. Heck’s fastest time is 7.33 seconds.

“You really have to have a good final to be able to make it (to nationals), so even though she was doing well all year long, it was important she do well in finals,” Heck’s mom, Debbie Heck, said.

Heck grew up around horses, and her mom used to jump. Eventually she saw someone barrel racing, and that ended up leading her down the path to breakaway roping and goat tying. She’s been competing in rodeo for 11 years but has been in the horse show world since she was 2 years old.

Her horses are boarded at a barn in Lebanon, where she also is keeping her two practice goats until nationals, and she trains with coach Ryan Corzatt in Washington Court House to be able to practice with calves for breakaway roping.

Every day, Heck rides for a couple hours to keep her horses fit and ready to run, and she works on her tying and dismounts and also works out at a gym daily to build up her muscle strength. It can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it, Heck said.

“I love the adrenaline of it,” she said. “My horses are my teammates. We get along so well, and I like to practice on my own time as hard as I want. How good I am is based on myself and how good I want to be. I played high school soccer, too, but rodeo is so much more important and exciting to me because of that. I spend every day with my horses so I have that bond with them and it’s a lot of fun.”

Heck realized at nationals in 2016 that team rodeo was even bigger than she thought, as college recruiters were there awarding scholarships to potential students. She received a scholarship to ride with the team at the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Now, she just wants to achieve her goal of a top performance at nationals as she wraps up her high school career.

“I used to get really nervous, but now I just block everything out,” Heck said. “Being out there, it makes you want to be better and faster and not play it safe. You go for it all or just don’t go at all. Seeing everyone else nervous makes me less nervous, and I feel like I’m ready to give it my best shot. The times I’ve been tying now are right up there at the top, so if I can just keep my head on my shoulders and do what I know how to do, I’ll have a pretty good chance.”

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