Aynor freshman Mackenzie Johnson has competed on the state rodeo circuit for a couple of years, but having most events at least three hours away makes it hard for her friends to attend.
That will change March 11 and 12 when RES-LES Farms in Conway hosts a S.C. High School Rodeo Association event for the second consecutive year. Although she has friends from all over the state, Johnson is looking forward to having some of her local friends and classmates at Aynor High School cheering her on.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “We usually have to travel three or four hours. I’m very excited about it.”
The 14-year-old competed in the middle school division this past year, and this is her first season of high school competition where she is trying to learn the ropes and become more competitive. She said the rodeo season begins about the same time as the new school year with the spring portion of the season starting in March following a winter break.
The teen grew up riding horses, and currently competes in five events including cutting, reined cow horse, barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping.
Johnson’s favorite is cutting, a western-style equestrian competition during which a horse and rider work as a team to demonstrate the horse’s ability to quickly herd cattle into a pen.
“Cutting is my favorite,” she said. “It’s just like in the moment. It’s so smooth. I like how it feels.”
A daughter of Craig and Jennifer Johnson, Mackenzie competes aboard a pair of horses named Shorty and Little Man. She said hard work and dedication are necessary ingredients for success.
“You have to practice every day,” she said. “I spend as much time at it as I can.”
Johnson enjoys competing, as well as being around her horses.
“I love horses,” she said. “It’s kinda like being in a different world. It’s amazing.”
Rodeo competitions are a family affair for the Johnson family, with Aynor High School junior Ethan Johnson competing in shooting competitions that are often held in conjunction with rodeos. However, he doesn’t compete in the rodeo.
Mrs. Johnson likes that the S.C. Rodeo Association emphasizes and promotes high moral standards, a strong work ethic, accountability and love and respect of God and country.
“They challenge the kids to be good and upstanding students and make good grades,” she said. “They set standards that the kids have to go by.”
Academics are not a problem for Johnson, who is a straight ‘A’ student at AHS.
“I’m a people person,” the teen said. “I love to be around people and I like to hang around with people from the rodeo.”
According to Mrs. Johnson, the Association makes the serious competitors feel comfortable as well as a kid who just likes horses and might have received his first pony for Christmas.
“We’ve made a lot of friends all across South Carolina,” she said. “It’s like one big family.”
The Johnsons are also good friends with RES-LES Farms owners Stacy and Buddy Smith, who brought a competition to Conway this past spring when their daughter Erin was a high school senior. Despite rain, the inaugural event was so successful the family wanted to host again this year.
“I would just like to say that we are beyond excited to bring South Carolina High School Rodeo back to Horry County this year,” Stacy Smith said. “We are hoping that word of mouth from last year and more promotion will draw an even larger crowd, thus making more people aware of High School Rodeo and its benefits to school-age youth. We are also happy to welcome the junior high contestants this year as well.”
The event features plenty of patriotism and prayer, beginning with the presentation of the American flag.
“I think people will really enjoy it,” Smith said. “It will be an awesome time. People will be introduced to something a lot of them didn’t know exists. It will be a fun-filled evening with lots of excitement.”
The S.C. Rodeo Association sponsors competitions for boys and girls with the top four contestants in all categories at the state competition in Clemson qualifying for the nationals where as many as 1,500 young people will compete.
“We have some awesome talent in our state,” Smith said. “We hold our own.”
One of the things Smith likes about rodeos is that competitors are also friends, and help each other whenever possible even though they compete as individuals.
S.C. High School Rodeo Association events vary from division to division and range from barrel racing and pole bending for the girls to bronco riding, steer wrestling and calf roping for the boys. Smith believes people will especially enjoy the bull riding, which is usually the finale, and one of the most anticipated events.
Admission will be $10, with youngsters 5-years-old and under being admitted free. Also, students who quote a Bible verse, will be admitted for $5.
The gates will open at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights with the rodeo starting at 8 p.m. More than 100 competing students and their families are expected to attend.
Call (843) 241-3155, email email@example.com, or check out SC High School Rodeo in Horry County on Facebook.
RES-LES Farms is located at 1208 Gilbert Road, and the public is invited to watch the competition.