Indiana Junior Rodeo Association (IJRA) and National Little Britches Association are hosting their events at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Indiana Junior Rodeo Association Seeing Increased Popularity

The Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds is preparing to welcome more than 150 youths to the Indiana Junior Rodeo Association (IJRA) and National Little Britches Association event this spring.

“The IJRA has been around for 35 years, and in 2018 we moved to the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds as our permanent facility,” said Andreah Caldwell, treasurer for the IJRA. “When we moved there we had about 60 kids participating, and today our rodeos host between 130 and 180 kids. They’re coming from all over the state and surrounding areas, and we’re really excited to have this centrally located facility.”

Children as young as 4 years old can get their start at the rodeo competition with categories like dummy roping, barrels, goat untie and others.

As they practice and learn more, their skill levels increase, and the difficulty does too.

Ages 5 to 8 add goat tie and calf riding to their repertoire. There’s a junior division for girls aged 9 through 13, and another for boys. The oldest in the junior rodeo are separate girl and boy divisions, aged 14 to 18, and they move into bull riding, saddle bronc riding and team roping, to name a few.

“The ratio is about 60% girls at the moment,” Andreah said. “That’s because there are a ton of barrel racers throughout all age groups, but when you get into calf ropers, for instance, there might be only eight of them.”

Breakaway roping has become more popular over the years, just recently added in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events, and soon the National Finals Rodeo events.

Primarily a women’s competition, breakaway roping involves riding horseback while roping a calf. The rope breaks away from the saddle once the calf gets far enough away from the horse.

As more events like this are accepted in the professional arena, the more opportunities young people have to compete in the future. That’s important to women like Kennedy Hayes, who participated in her first rodeo in preschool.

“I compete in senior girls breakaway roping, barrel racing, goat tying and pole bending,” Hayes said. “I’d say I practice breakaway the most. Throughout the summer I spend four to five hours a day practicing and exercising my horses. During the school year it’s probably two to three hours a night.”

While sitting in the audience and watching participants ride a wild horse or bull, the amount of work the young people put in might not be evident, but it’s an entirely different lifestyle from those who are not involved.

“It’s a family-oriented association,” Andreah said. “We call it our rodeo family because we’re sleeping in campers next to each other two weekends out of the month sometimes. It allows us to be very close and connected. These kids are often matured beyond their years. They are around adults all the time. My kids’ best friends are at the rodeo and I think many of them can say that.”

In addition to the practice and the friendships, the lessons learned truly develop the youth in a unique way. They learn independence, commitment, hard work and discipline.

“If you don’t put in the hard work, the outcome won’t be what you want,” Hayes said. “I think there’s a toughness that you learn. When it’s negative 5 degrees this winter, you still have to go out and feed your horses. Every day you’re going to feed, clean the barn and put in your practice time.”

For those in the arena, it may be a lot of work but it’s also a lot of fun.

“I think every little boy or girl dreams of being a cowboy,” Andreah said. “We’ve all watched the westerns. It’s something we want to be a part of and it’s kind of fascinating.”

Creek Caldwell, Andreah’s son, has been participating for 12 years.

“It’s just what I love to do,” Creek said. “I like saddle bronc riding. You come out on a horse that’s not broke. It’s just like riding a bull. You have to stay on for eight seconds. There’s also a lot of scholarships available and I’ve been getting calls from colleges with rodeo programs.”

The IJRA is a nonprofit and depends solely on sponsorships to help pay for award packages. In addition, participants solicit a minimum of $100 to be eligible for the awards.

“Last year we were able to provide about $30,000 in prize money, and another $30,000 in awards like saddles, buckles and tack,” Andreah said. “We depend on our sponsors for all of that.”

Not only does the program move youth to participate in public speaking while sharing their passion with others, but it also fosters leadership skills.

“We have a student board,” Andreah said. “They help plan activities for the younger kids. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to be successful.”

Hayes said she too is looking at colleges with rodeo programs.

Both teens have obtained their ProRodeo card, allowing them to compete at other competitions against adults with more experience.

“I think it’s the adrenaline and the excitement, but it’s also seeing the outcome of the hard work I’ve put in,” Hayes said. “You see all the little kids looking up to you and that makes it worth it. You’re looking up to your own people – your parents, other competitors with more experience – and the younger ones are looking up to you.”

Like many other sports, there is a level of danger and risk of injury, but with practice and experience, the risk decreases.

“There are concerns,” Andreah said. “We have many rodeos where no one gets hurt, but on occasion there’s a broken arm. I feel like it’s similar to football or baseball.”

Also similar to other sports, the love of rodeo is often passed down from generation to generation. Parents who rodeoed professionally have led their young ones to get their start.

It’s an atmosphere and bonding experience many of the youth appreciate.

“My dad was into rodeo and he and I practice together, and my mom is very involved,” Hayes said. “She’s into the health and nutrition part. She makes sure the horses are healthy. There’s a lot of family time when you’re traveling all summer long; you’re in the truck for hours at a time together.”

The IJRA season begins in August each year, with rodeo competitions nearly every month throughout the school year. Many of those competitions, including the annual awards banquet, are held at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds.

“The partnership we have with the Hendricks County Fairgrounds and the awesome facilities they offer is a part of our growth and success,” Andreah said. “We’re really grateful to [Executive Director] Steve Patterson and the staff. They’ve been awesome to work with.”

For more information on the IJRA, visit

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