By: Wyatt Imus
The 2017 International Finals Youth Rodeo (IFYR) is set to celebrate 25 years as the world's richest rodeo when it returns to Shawnee, Oklahoma, on Sunday, July 9, to Friday, July 14.
The competition attracts the greatest high school rodeo athletes from around the world. Events include barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping, goat tying, team roping (heading and heeling), tie-down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and bareback riding.
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Winning a championship at the IFYR is something many strive for, but only few accomplish. Starting with 309 contestants from 13 states in 1993, the International Finals Youth Rodeo has grown to average more than 1,000 constantans each year from across the United States and several countries. The IFYR in Shawnee is the place to win a championship and a share of $250,000 in prize money. Out of the more than 1,000 contestants, only 13 champions are crowned each year, which is a little more than 1 percent.
Shawnee was my first my rodeo to win," said Brooklyn Gunter, the 2016 pole bending champion. "It is something I will never forget, and I hope to accomplish it again.
The 2016 Champions:
- Bull Riding Champion: Judd Hebert
- Pole Bending Champion: Brooklyn Gunter
- Barrel Racing Champion: Kaylee Scales
- Saddle Bronc Champion: Colt Gordon
- Steer Wrestling Champion: Zack Jongbloed
- All-Around Cowboy and Tie-Down Roping Champion: Garrett Jacobs
- All-Around Cowgirl: Kelly Valdez
- Goat Tying Champion: Kaylee Cormier
- Team Roping Champions: Kaylee Cormier
- Breakaway Roping Champion: Kelsey Brashear
- Bareback Riding Champion: Lane McGehee
"This is my second year to compete at the IFYR, and last year I only competed in the pole bending," Gunter said. "I am competing in the barrel racing and pole bending both this year."
The second oldest of eight kids, Gunter comes from a rodeo family. The mare she rides in the pole bending is quite special to her family. Gunter has been riding "Blaze," a 14-year-old mare that was originally bought as a yearling from the sale barn before the Gunters bought her, in the pole bending for two years, and although the IFYR was her first big rodeo to win, it was just the beginning. Gunter went on to win High School Nationals the week after the IFYR and then won the Louisiana High School Rodeo Association championship this year. Her sister, Gabby, has also been riding Blaze. Gabby won the Louisiana Jr. High School Rodeo Association state championship this year and won Jr. High Nationals on Blaze in June.
Last year was quite the dream year for the Gunter family. Brooklyn broke the pole bending arena record at the IFYR. Gunter and Blaze ran a 19.303-second pattern which beat the previous record set back in 2006. The Gunter family is no stranger to the IFYR, as 12 different family members have competed in the rodeo, and there are plenty of family members left to come up through the IFYR.
Blaze loves her job, and she is very consistent," said Gunter. "She always gives us her all every run. I just want to go make three solid, consistent runs again this year and hopefully win the championship again.
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