For Madey Rees, rodeo isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life. She spends two to three hours every day riding her horses, training for the next rodeo. She’s been riding horses since she was 3 years old and competing since she was 8. Now 13 and in eighth grade, rodeo has become the cornerstone of her life.
“She’s always been a natural rider, even from the very beginning,” said Madey’s mother, Kathy.
Her natural talent — and plenty of hard work — have proven worth it for Madey, who lives in Erda.
Madey has competed in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo for the past two years. The competition is only open to the best riders from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and as far away as Australia. Over 160 competitors enter the rodeo.
In her first year at nationals, Madey experienced some bad luck. After a 26-hour road trip to Tennessee for the event, she was in fifth place in pole bending and waiting for her next run, which would determine if she competed in the final short-go.
In pole bending, a rider weaves around six poles, each spaced 21 feet apart. Competitors race out to the last pole, around the six in a figure-eight pattern, and back to the start. Madey had grown up weaving around the poles, and was ready for her race.
Then torrential rains fell.
Madey did her race in a foot of slippery mud, which splashed up the sides of her horse and into his eyes, onto Madey, and onto the poles she had to ride around.
“My horse couldn’t see the poles,” she said. “There was mud flipped all over them.”
Madey took 21st place in pole bending. Only the top 20 competitors continue to the final short-go, the winning round of nationals. She barely missed it, all because of a rainstorm.
“To travel that far, and have weather play such a part, it’s what gives you a stronger drive the next year.” Kathy said.
The next year, Madey’s time was 20.802 seconds, good enough to get her in the top 10, although her best is 20.304. She ran in the final short-go but knocked over a pole — an accident that would cost her a time penalty. Madey placed 12th out of the entire nation in pole bending.
“It was stupid!” she said, still frustrated. “I knocked over a freaking pole in the final short-go!”
Madey plans to go back to nationals for a third time this year — her last in the junior high age bracket.
“I’ve had two bad runs, now I just need one good one!” she said.
Madey is well on her way to qualify for nationals again this year. After only a couple rodeos so far since last nationals in June, she is already in position to go to state in three of her five events: pole bending, barrel racing, breakaway, team roping, and ribbon roping. She has about seven competitions coming up and is excited to keep working toward nationals again this year.
“Every kid who rodeos, their dream is to go to nationals,” Kathy said. “She’s been really lucky to be able to do that in pole bending.”
Between caring for the horses, doing chores, homework, and rodeo competitions, Madey is kept busy. She said most of her free time is at night and on weekends, and a lot of that time is used for doing the homework she missed to go to rodeos all over the state.
On average, she misses almost every Friday of school, whether to compete or to attend her brother’s events. To be allowed to compete in rodeo, Madey has to keep her grades up and her family has to send in report cards to prove that she’s doing well in school.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but it sure does make you grow up fast,” Kathy said.
Madey also runs her own fundraisers to compete. Even making $60 to $100 almost every weekend winning events — which generally goes straight back to the rodeo fund — the costs of travel, equipment, and entry fees add up. In previous years, she’s baked and sold cookies to local police and sold soda to neighbors to raise money for rodeo.
Riding and rodeo run in the family. Madey’s grandfather is a large animal veterinarian who owns a ranch upstate, and her father competed in high school rodeo. Her 25-year-old sister, Lauren, rides recreationally, and her 17-year-old brother, Beau, also races in competitive rodeo events.
Madey said she wants to follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by competing in rodeo in high school, then going to college to be a large animal veterinarian.
“I’ve always wanted to be a vet,” she said. “I’m going to go to college, and I’m going to be a vet.”
Kathy said she can’t remember her daughter ever wanting to pursue a different career.
“She really wants to be like him,” she said of Madey’s grandfather.
Madey said her older sister, Lauren, gives her someone to ride with and pushes her forward.
“She’s always kept going. She has two kids and she’s still riding,” Madey said. “… She pushes me a lot when she’s here.”
Her parents have also helped, Madey said.
“They spend all their time and money just to help me,” she said. “I’m really grateful for that.”
More than anything, Madey has found the support of her brother, Beau, to be invaluable. She said he sometimes practices until the middle of the night, and his aggressiveness and determination inspires her — even if they do fight a lot.
“If I didn’t have him, I probably couldn’t rodeo,” she said. “He’s stood by me, he’s helped me with the horses. He’s kind of my idol.
“Don’t ever say that to him!” she added, with a grin. “I can’t let him know I like him. But I honestly couldn’t do it without him.”
Even the horses have become a valuable part of the family tradition.
“We train all of our horses ourselves,” Madey said.
The Rees family owns nine horses on their property in Erda, three of which Madey rides in her events. They are Fonz, her barrel horse, Gus, her roping horse, and Pete, her pole bending horse.
At 26 years old, Pete is twice Madey’s age and old for a competition-level horse. He was first trained by her father, and she’s practically grown up riding him. Pete is the horse that carried Madey to nationals twice — and likely will do it again.
“He’s a great horse,” Madey said.
For Madey and her family, rodeo isn’t just a sport. It’s a tradition, one that has led her to be one of the best pole benders in the nation.
“It’s all a family thing,” she said. “It’s always been all of us.”