After winning his second consecutive Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association bull-riding championship in late May, Christian Kennard and his family are hoping for better results at the national level in Christian’s second time around.
The 17-year-old Airville native is set to compete in this week’s National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in Rock Springs, Wyoming. After failing to make the finals a year ago, the Kennard family has its eyes set on making the top 20 in the bull-riding division to qualify for the final round Saturday evening.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Christian’s mother, Donna, said during a phone interview Monday. “Now, Pennsylvania is not certainly known as being a hotbed for rodeo stars, so it’s still pretty cool to be able to compete at this level. We’re certainly hoping he does better this year, but a lot of it is the luck of the draw.”
The format: Christian Kennard will get the first of his two chances to ride starting Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. before his final run Thursday morning at 11 a.m. The cumulative scores from both sessions are used to rank Kennard against a field of more than 200 competitors from around the country, as well as from Mexico, Canada and Australia.
Each rider is guaranteed two chances to score during the preliminary portion of the seven-day event. The bulls are assigned to each rider at random, which is where the element of luck comes into play. Some of the bulls can be very challenging, while others may hardly buck at all. The goal for each rider is to complete a full eight-second run.
Points are awarded on a 0-100 scale based on the degree of difficulty that the judges assign to the ride. Each rider, however, is basically given a mulligan for one of their rides, meaning they can drop a score in an effort to accrue more points the second time around.
“There was one rider who went today and his bull didn’t really buck at all,” Donna Kennard said. “They opened the gate and the bull just kind of walked out and looked around and then just kind of stood there. So while that kid finished the full eight seconds, his score was just a seven, which isn’t very good.”
To make the finals, it would appear that Kennard would conservatively have to tally at least 140 points from his two scored runs. The scores from Sunday evening’s and Monday morning’s performances averaged 72.2 per ride.
Cole Skendar of Crossett, Arkansas, is atop the standings after scoring an 86 during his first ride.
Gaining momentum: Kennard’s chances for doing well may be helped by some momentum he’s generated since last year’s event. In addition to capturing the state title in May, Kennard won the Northeast Regional of the Junior National Finals Rodeo late last year before placing fifth in a national competition held in Las Vegas last December.
That result even earned Kennard a couple of things that pretty much every bull rider seeks on a daily basis.
“Money and belt buckles,” Donna Kennard said with a laugh. “I don’t know if you ever saw a bull-rider’s belt buckle, but that is like their pride and joy. I just made him a cabinet for his buckles and I think that he’s up to 15 now since he started when he was 10.”
While 15 buckles may not seem like an overly outrageous number, Donna Kennard made sure to clarify that there's one key element that separates this sport from many others for teen boys.
“There are no participation trophies in bull riding,” she said. “You either win or you don’t.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.