Catonsville's aspiring rodeo star, Charlize Stair, just finished sixth grade, an honor-roll student. She balances her training with playing soccer and a taking part in a book club.
She has been riding horses since she was 2. She first learned the English style of riding, which focuses on jumps, which is how her mother, Jennifer Sulin-Stair learned to ride. When Charlize was 6 or 7, she went to a show where she saw rodeo-style events along with English events. The speed and the outfits drew her to rodeo.
"I like going fast," Charlize said. "That's my speed, usually."
"She loves it and it's her passion so I fully support her," added her mother.
After a season participating in the junior high division of the Maryland High School Rodeo Association, where she was a Rookie of the Year, she now gets a chance to ride in the national spotlight, as she qualified for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, scheduled next week in Lebanon, Tenn. She previously rode in the association's elementary school division.
Charlize, 11, and her horse, Reggie, also 11, will take part in two events — barrel racing and pole bending. She'll have Reggie, a registered paint horse breed, sorrel in color, for four years in September. Charlize will also participate in ribbon roping.
"I'm really happy with myself that I made it this far," she said. "I never really thought I would be able to make it this far but I have and I just want to keep going."
In barrel racing, she and Reggie, who competes by the name Watch Little Rock, loop around three barrels set up in a triangle formation. The distance between the barrels depends on the size of the arena — in a smaller arena, one lap can be completed in about 13 seconds, while in a larger arena, it can be completed in about 20 seconds, Sulin-Stair said.
Charlize spends most of her time practicing barrel racing, she said.
"Barrel racing is fun because he's like a beast at it," Charlize said about her horse. "He loves doing it. He knows what we're doing once we get into the arena."
In pole bending, Charlize must guide Reggie between six poles spread out 21 feet apart from each other. In ribbon roping, a male partner lassos a calf with a ribbon tied to its tail and Charlize runs to pull the ribbon off then runs back to the starting point.
On school days, she'll spend four to five hours after school at her family's Catonsville stable, about a five-minute drive from her home, to practice and tend to her family's horses. She spends most of her weekends there, as well.
Sulin-Stair gets nervous when her daughter participates, not because she thinks she has to win or out of fear that she'll get hurt, but out of wanting her to do well. She hopes during barrel racing heats that a barrel is not knocked down, which results in a 5 second penalty.
"It virtually puts you out of contention," she said.
About 1,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from 43 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia are expected to participate in Tennessee, with a chance to win prizes, college scholarships and the chance to be named a National Junior High Finals Rodeo World Champion, according to a news release.
To earn the title, contestants must finish in the top 20 based on their combined times and scores in their first two rounds of events and advance to a third round. World champions will be determined based on their times and scores for the three rounds.
Charlize's trainer, Paige Reynolds, has worked with her for about three years and said she has what it takes to succeed. When they train together, Reynolds makes sure Charlize's runs are smooth and that she and Reggie are working together.
"She truly wants it more than anybody out there so its very rewarding for me to watch her and the horse grow," she said. "She has done an awesome job."