Don't call Carli Cavin a goat roper, a derisive term generally reserved for a cowboy or cowgirl wannabe or a phony having, as the saying goes, "all hat and no cattle."
Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the Hereford High School rising senior, an authentic rodeo athlete who knows what it's like to participate in the spirited competition at the heart of cowboy culture.
Cavin returned last month from the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo., where she and 10 of her Maryland teammates made their debut on the national stage against rivals from across the United States — and even a few from Australia and Canada.
And, yes, included in the competition is an event called goat tying, which is the art of riding a horse at full speed and bringing it to a sudden stop before dismounting on the way to wrestling a tethered goat to the ground. Riders are then judged by how quickly they wrap three of the goat's feet together with a 4-foot goat string.
Hailing from what is considered the hinterlands of rodeo activity, Cavin still summoned the nerve to take her turn at that event.
The Upperco resident also participated in barrel races, a timed sprint for horse and rider galloping in a cloverleaf pattern around three 55-gallon metal or plastic drums.
Her other event, breakaway roping, features a rider throwing a lasso around the neck of the calf before bringing the horse to a sudden stop so that the rope, wrapped around a saddle horn, becomes taut and breaks. The fastest run wins.
Overwhelmed or intimidated are not the correct words to describe what it was like for Cavin to perform those events in front of 5,000 hard core rodeo aficionados — compared with the 30 or so onlookers usually in the stands at home.
Nevertheless, the rodeo was a daunting experience for a 17-year-old with less than a year's experience in Western-style horsemanship.
As she readied to enter the outdoor arena for goat tying, Cavin remembers she started feeling a bit queasy.
"When they called my name, I started gagging," Cavin acknowledged with a bashful smile.
Her coach at the Patapsco Horse Center in Catonsville, Sherri Trenary, noted that Cavin was "more in a mental state of panic" when facing the prospect of performing in front of so many knowledgeable fans.
"She was holding her horse back a little, and she tripped over the goat," Trenary added.
When Cavin competed a couple of days later, however, some of her opening-night butterflies had subsided.
"She was much better by then," Trenary said. "She had her head back in the game."
That there is any game at all for Cavin or any of her teammates is a credit to the fledgling Maryland High School Rodeo Association, the newly minted local branch of the National High School Rodeo Association.
Cavin, the recent student board of directors president-elect of the MDHSRA, said not many of her Hereford High classmates are aware of her cowgirl chops.
"No, I don't wear my [cowboy-style] hat to school," she said. "Kids know I ride, but only a few of them know what I really do."
Still, Cavin's only hobby revolves around her horses and preparing to be a rodeo rider.
"My friends text me and say, 'Let's go hang out,'" she said. "But I say, 'Sorry, I'm taking care of my horses.' I guess I'd rather be doing that than hanging out. I don't think people have a concept of what we do. They don't know how hard we work."
As the folks at the national gathering in Wyoming learned, though, the Marylanders are just as dedicated to — if not nearly as experienced in — their rodeo craft as their Western counterparts.
"I think we came out there and shocked them a little bit," Cavin said.
Shocked or not, the participants seemed to get along regardless of regional differences.
"We were all hanging out, roping, until 3 a.m.," she said.
"As a parent, it was great to see all those kids from different states getting along so well," said Carli's mom, Lisa Cavin, who said her daughter started riding at 2, but only recently discovered her new favorite sport. "It was crazy fun, action packed, with a lot of stuff going on."
As for the competitive aspect of the rodeo in which Maryland tied for 45th — and last — place with New York in the team standings, Lisa Cavin said it was "an eye-opening experience" for her daughter's team.
"It was our first year, so none of us knew what to expect," added Karen Anderson, national director for the MDHSRA. "Now we have a little taste of it under our belt. A lot of those [Western] kids grow up with a rope in their hands. We have 100,000 horses in Maryland, but we haven't competed in rodeo."
Anderson and the MDHSRA are hoping that what is in essence designed to be a feeder program, the Maryland Mustangs, will bode well for the future of the sport in the Free State. The Mustangs will serve as the training team for elementary school-aged kids.
As for high-schooler Cavin, the future is now. That's why she recently competed at the Howard County Fair and plans to keep going.
Plans include eventually becoming a regular on a regional semipro circuit.
This summer, she will continue to live on the 200-acre Patapsco Horse Center site during the week before returning to her Upperco roots on weekends.
During the week in Catonsville, chores include feeding some of the center's 85 horses, mending fences and mucking stalls when she's not being put through practice sessions under Trenary's watchful eye.
Cavin also mentors younger kids, which touches her coach's heart.
"I don't think she realizes how much she influences them," Tenary said. "The little ones love Carli."