By Katy Savage
WEST RUTLAND—Haley Bania and her sister Michaela couldn’t be more different. Haley is reserved; Michaela is outgoing. Michaela is competitive; Haley is laid back. Michaela is athletic; Haley is artsy.
But Haley, 17, and Michaela, 14, are both ranked top in the world of rodeo.
Michaela is in the middle of packing for her largest competition yet. She qualified for the 14th annual National Junior High Rodeo in South Dakota. She’ll compete with 1,000 riders from 43 states as well as Canada, Australia and Mexico in the competition on Sunday, June 24, to Saturday, June 30.
Vermont doesn’t have a rodeo team so Michaela rides for the New York State Junior Rodeo Association with about 50 other students in grades six through eight. Michaela qualified for not just one event in the world competition, but three. She’ll compete in barrel racing, goat tying and light rifle shooting.
“I like the adrenaline of it—going into the arena,” Michaela said.
Meanwhile, Haley, who rides for the New York State High School Rodeo Association, is preparing for world finals in Georgia this August.
“It’s fast and it’s something different,” said Haley.
Haley and Michaela grew up in West Rutland and they each started riding at age 2. They first learned how to ride from their mother, Joanna. The sisters gained basic skills from competing in 4-H shows before finding their own passions.
Michaela concentrates on roping while Haley likes barrel races but they learned to be competitive in each other’s events from traveling and attending clinics together.
The competitions are all about speed and accuracy.
In South Dakota, Michaela will be judged on how quickly her horse can go around the barrels and how fast she can tie goats. She’ll shoot a .22 rifle in three positions for the rifle contest—standing, on her knees and lying down.
Haley and Michaela have won saddles and championships from competitions throughout the country, but getting there hasn’t been easy.
“There is no one around here who teaches goat tying,” Joanna said.
Michaela drives an hour and 20 minutes to train with a roping instructor in New York once a week. When she’s at home, Michaela ropes dummies in her backyard to practice goat tying. She practices shooting at a local range. The sisters also ride at Pond Hill Ranch.
Haley and Michaela work together at McDonald’s and use the money they earn to buy new tack and pay entrance fees for shows and clinics. They are both sponsored by Fowler Feeds in Castleton, which helps them pay for feed.
The sister cowgirls don’t always get along, Haley admitted, but both said their success comes from their connection with their horses, which they trained themselves.
Michaela’s two horses, Doc, 9, and Digger, 14, are leaving to drive 24 hours to South Dakota on Tuesday, June 20. It will take her three days to get there for the competition that begins June 24.
More than $80,000 in prizes and $200,000 in college scholarships will be awarded to the winners.
The events will be televised nationally as a part of the Cinch High School Rodeo Tour telecast series on RFD-TV. Live broadcasts of all NJHFR performances will air on RidePass.com at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day.
Michaela Bania, 14, rides in a goat tying competition with her horse. She qualifed for nationals in South Dakota June 24-30.