By Loretta Gillespie CORRESPONDENT

Lexy Malone doesn’t even remember when she first got up on a horse. Her dad, Rex, shows quarter horses, and her mom, Sophia, is a barrel racer, so there were always horses available as she learned the intricacies of horsemanship. By the time she was 8 years old she was entering competitions — and winning.

She won her first Rodeo Pageant around that age at the West Point Petite Rodeo Competition.

“That involved riding an easy figure-eight pattern, in addition to points for horsemanship and being able to control your horse,” Lexie pointed out.

In love with horses and fascinated by movies like “The Horse Whisperer” and “Flicka,” the youngster was given the responsibilities of her own horse, Ellie, at an early age.

As a teenager, she became involved in sports to the extent that she hung up her saddle for a while, but last March, Lexy once again proved that her passion really lay in the rodeo arena when she won the 2014 Miss West Point Rodeo competition, earning top points for the pageant, her horsemanship, and her expert control of the horse.

Extremely competitive, Lexy devoted long hours to learning the complex maneuvers required to enter barrel racing, team roping, pole bending, goat roping and break-away roping competitions. These are the criteria on which rodeo competitors are rated. “The hardest thing is learning to rope,” Lexy explained. “You have to have something to rope.”

“Youth rodeo is an amazing sport,” she said. “The process of learning is quick, you are still learning even when you are competing.”

The sound of the announcer, the excitement of the dazzling patriotic entry of the riders on beautifully groomed horses, the flames, flags and cow girls and boys dressed in flashy rodeo attire at the opening ceremonies are just part of the attractions to rodeo life. Clowns, an element of danger, cheering crowds and the chance of winning cash prizes are other aspects that attract people to this way of life, which also involves a lot of time spent on the road.

“It can be an expensive hobby,” Lexy said. “The cost of traveling and the entry fees are considerable.”

But that hasn’t stopped Lexy or her twin sister, Lacy, from continuing to compete.

According to Lexy, youth rodeo includes both boys and girls, ages 8-18. In the Senior Division, ages 15-18, competitors can win scholarships. Lexy won a $2,000 scholarship as Miss West Point Rodeo. Part of the requirements involved volunteering her time at the rodeo and filling out an application.

This win qualified her to enter the Miss Rodeo USA competition in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, last week. The judges gave points in each of the following categories; Equine Science, Saddle, and knowledge of Current Events.

Horsemanship garnered the competitors 30 percent of their total points, while the rest were divided among appearance, personality, public speaking and the written test.

There were 17 girls in Lexy’s group. Although she did not win this year, she intends to keep following her dream. “My ultimate goal is to make it to the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) competition, which includes the top 15 competitors in the world in all eight events,” she said.

Currently, she attends Wallace State Community College where she is attaining a degree as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, and working full-time at the Margret Jean Jones Center.

Although she recently sold her horse, she still plans to continue competing in the rodeo circuit after graduation.

“Rodeoing is hard work, but it’s a lot of fun, and if you really love the sport, it is amazing,” she said. “It teaches kids responsibility at a young age, good values, manners, and respect — as well as learning a lot about the Western way of life.”

“I love rodeo people,” she continued. “It’s like one big family. Most people who travel the rodeo circuit are passionate about it.”

LEXY MALONE