It’s not a sport at any area high school, but one local lady has used her proficiency to create great opportunity.
Meet Jaclyn Burke, 2014 graduate of Patrick Henry, and three-time qualifier for the National High School Finals Rodeo. Quietly, Burke has become one of the nation’s top high school rodeo participants, competing not only throughout the Commonwealth, but across the nation.
Burke’s journey began with her first horse ride at age 7. Rodeo would come later, as she spent the 2000s riding and showing English.
“I seemed to pick up riding quickly, but it’s a big learning process,” Burke said.” It took many years to progress to where I am today. It takes a lot of practice if you want to be competitive.”
So while her classmates practiced team sports at Liberty Middle School, Burke was doggedly determined on her own to perfect her unique craft. Her first rodeo would come at the start of her sophomore year as a Patriot.
“It was at the State Fair of Virginia in 2011, both my and my horse’s first time competing in that type of atmosphere. She was trained to be a hunter pony for jumping, but then I decided to challenge myself to train her to run barrels and poles, eventually leading to teaching her how to be a goat-tying horse,” Burke explained. “I was basically clueless about the sport at the time.”
She placed second in pole bending at the Fair, the first of several surprises, as Burke calls them, that led her to where she is today.
“There never was a specific time that I thought I would have a future in rodeo,” Burke opined. “The first time I qualified for Nationals (in 2012) was kind of a surprise. I entered the Queen Competition, a pageant with a speech, interview, a written test, modeling and more, and I won, yet again surprising myself at my success.”
At the same time, she just missed qualifying in pole bending, but a competitor above her bowed out. As an alternate, she competed at the national level.
“Since then my goal is to qualify for Nationals and now I achieved it each year,” Burke proclaimed.
The road to Nationals was long and arduous. After her day as a student at Patrick Henry, a typical after-lunch schedule included cleaning her barn, her neighbor’s barn, feeding the animals, riding two horses, then practice roping the dummy and tying goats. Practice was two hours, caring for the horses much more. After 7 p.m., it was inside for hours of homework.
This great devotion is paying off for Burke, not just with competition success, but now with a rodeo scholarship to Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NWOSU).
“A year ago I became close with friends through rodeo who began to head west for college. I didn’t think I could follow since they had so much more rodeo experience than me,” Burke said. “But as I looked at colleges, I decided there was no way I could go to a college where I couldn’t take my horse, so I started looking for a rodeo college out west that would take a chance on me.
After emailing several schools to little avail, her hopes were fading. But a reply last December changed everything.
“The assistant coach at NWOSU replied, then called several times and we discussed everything,” Burke recalled. “In January, my mom and I out flew out there, and it felt like the perfect college for me. Thankfully, we came back to Virginia with both a rodeo and an academic scholarship.”
While Burke knows she has her family’s complete support, she is well aware of the drastic changes in her life just around the corner.
“If a problem arises, I know I’ll have the support of my family. But getting to know many new people and living in a completely different atmosphere will be a great experience. I am excited.”
Burke hopes to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in three years, then focus on veterinary school, possibly at Oklahoma State, or closer to home. She also leaves the door open to a professional career in rodeo, though she knows that is a huge commitment. But Burke has surprised herself before.
“While professional rodeo would be nice, it’s a lot of work, time, and money,” she said. “However, that’s what I said about college rodeo, and look where that got me.”