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Rodeo lassos Howard High student

Geegee Lowe's debut on a horse came early in her life.

After first "showing" a horse six months before her second birthday, the 16-year-old Howard High junior is already a grizzled veteran of learning and performing numerous styles of riding and horsemanship.

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Lately, one of those styles — rodeo — has been taking up much of her time. At the Howard County Fair, Geegee competed against 34 other members of the Maryland High School Rodeo Association.

It's the second year in a row the high school association has performed at the West Friendship site.

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"It's been a huge success," said board member Lisa Cavin. "Considering that we're holding this on a Wednesday morning, the turnout has been great."

The fair comes on the heels of Geegee and her mom, Chrissy, attending the week-long 2015 National High School Finals Rodeo at the Sweetwater Events Complex in Rock Springs, Wyo., last month. That's where 1,600 of the nation's best youth cowboys and cowgirls gather to display their talents in a sport that features, among other events, goat tying, which is the art of riding a horse at full speed and slowing it down 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.

Other events include pole races, in which riders swerve between poles set up in a straight line; and barrel races, a timed sprint for horse and rider galloping in a cloverleaf pattern around three 55-gallon metal or plastic drums.

Another option is breakaway roping, which 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.

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This event was the only one for which Geegee qualified in Wyoming and the one in which she excelled at the fair, claiming first place by lassoing a calf in just under 12 seconds. Few other high school cowgirls were able to even lasso their calves, and one who did took 20 seconds to do so.

Geegee's first two events were not as successful, although she insisted that her ride around the barrels "was not that bad." She posted a 16.83, which was not far off from winner Courtney Casper's 16:08. Even so, Geegee said she wanted to do better in her last event than she did in her first two competitions.

"When I got to the breakaway, I was more determined to look for the 'catch,' " she said, using the term to describe when a calf is lassoed.

According to her trainer, Ricky Fultz, who lauded Geegee for being "determined," he said that her mental state is as important as her skill in putting a 1,000-pound animal through the paces.

"You have to get into her head," he said. "Once you get in there and give her something to concentrate on, she really does well."

At nationals, despite coming from a state generally considered to be a rodeo backwater, the Elkridge resident knew that competing against top talent in front of 5,000 knowledgeable fans can only make her better. From that perspective, the rodeo was a daunting experience for a teen trying to hone her Western-style horsemanship skills.

"I was nervous watching her," Geegee's mom said. "But she's been riding so much, it doesn't affect her that much."

Geegee will be the first to admit that she didn't perform as well as she would have liked after her horse balked before coming out of the holding area prior to chasing the calf.

"I was nervous," Geegee admitted. "But after that a lot of people there gave me tips on how to get off to a better start by sitting back on the horse a little bit."

There was a lot more to her visit to the Cowboy State than that one event, however. For one thing, Geegee was a runner-up in the Queen Contest, which is based on horsemanship, a written test, personal interviews, a speech and personality traits. That alone would have been worth the trip out West.

And then there was the camaraderie with the other cowboys and cowgirls that made the event so worthwhile.

"It was great to travel and meet so many people from all over the country and make friends with them," she said.

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