Winners of the Cowboy Christmas Junior Rodeo pose for the camera. Left to right, back row, are Mya Jacobs (12-14, 2nd place), Riley Helquist (15-18, 2nd place), Aubrey McKellips (15-18. 2nd place and 1st place in 15-18 breakaway roping), Rori Cresto (15-18, 1st place), and Kota Halliday (12-14, 1st place and 1st place in 12-14 breakaway roping). In the middle row are Dixie Lessner (9-11, 2nd place), Briggs Nay (6-8, 2nd place and 3rd place in breakaway roping), Rowan Cresto (2nd place, 12-14 breakaway roping) 12-14 Dakota Dull (12-14, 3rd place), and Estelle Surkes ( 9-11, 3rd place). In the front row are Haygen Carlson (6-8, 1st place and 1st place in breakaway roping, only catch), Selleck Nay (0-5, 1st place), Clara Hatcher (6-8, 3rd place), Sage Lessner (0-5, 2nd place), and Bo Lessner ( 6-8, 3rd place), and Swede Carlson (9-11, 1st place and 2nd place in breakaway roping). Not Pictured: Laci Cunningham (9-11, 1st place) and Mia Kimmerless (2nd place in 12-14 breakaway roping). [Courtesy of Red Rock N' Blue Youth Rodeo Club]

At the Red Rock N’ Blue youth rodeo horse games event on Dec. 10, teams of equestrians competed in a Christmas tree decorating relay. Each team member had a festive item to deliver on horseback to a small tree perched on a barrel in the arena. Riders were timed on successfully hanging or wrapping their ornaments from the saddle.

Moab equestrians Rachel Cresto and Desi Calvert started the Red Rock N’ Blue youth rodeo club this past fall to give local and regional kids a place to learn skills and character and the opportunity to compete in equestrian sports without having to travel. They first approached Grand County High School about sponsoring a rodeo club, but the district had concerns about safety. Cresto and Calvert went ahead on their own with the hope that if their club is successful, the school will be more open to the idea of sponsoring an official club where students could letter and earn scholarships.

Red Rock N’ Blue Rodeo Team Horse Games on December 10. [Courtesy of Red Rock N’ Blue Youth Rodeo Club]

“Ultimately the start of the club was to prove that we can have a fun, safe rodeo club just like any other sport,” Cresto said.

The club is open to boys and girls of any age, as soon as they’re able to ride: Cresto said the club has about 30 current members, ranging from 2 and 3 years old up to 18 years old. They meet weekly to learn and practice skills.

“They learn how to take care of a horse, how to ride,” Cresto said. “You’re learning all sorts of valuable life skills: learning how to care for an animal, how to be part of a team. That’s really important.”

Red Rock N’ Blue held its first rodeo on Nov. 12, featuring various timed events. Other clubs from the region, including from Monticello, Blanding, Dove Creek and Cortez, traveled to Moab to participate.

“Part of the reason we started the club was so kids would have the chance to go to a rodeo where they don’t have to travel so far,” Cresto said.

The Dec. 10 horse games included, along with the Christmas tree relay, an obstacle course and a “fox and the hound” barrel course. “Fox and the hound” is a game similar to tag, played on horseback.

Also in December, club members traveled to Ignacio, Colorado to hear champion barrel racer and motivational speaker Amberley Snyder.

Snyder grew up competing in equestrian sports. As a teenager she won the All-Around Cowgirl World Championship and served as president of the Utah State Future Farmers of America. Shortly before her 19th birthday, Snyder was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. But she didn’t give up her sport: she adapted to her new abilities and resumed competing in rodeo events less than two years later.

Members of the Red Rock N’ Blue rodeo club pose with famous rodeo champion Amberley Snyder. [Courtesy of Red Rock N’ Blue Youth Rodeo Club]

“A lot of these kids take inspiration from that,” Cresto said.

Snyder shares her story as a motivational speaker; there’s also a Netflix biopic about her called “Walk. Ride. Rodeo.”

Red Rock N’ Blue club members were deeply moved by hearing Snyder speak. Several of them got to meet her when she came to Moab to participate in the Canyonlands PRCA rodeo. The club hopes to bring Snyder back to Moab to teach a 2-day clinic this spring.

Red Rock N’ Blue will host its next rodeo on Feb. 11, featuring barrel events, poles, a flag race and a pick up race. Rodeo is a thriving sport in the region, even if there’s not a high school team. Regional clubs in San Juan County and Southwest Colorado participate in Moab events and host events of their own.

“There’s youth barrel races in Grand Junction, Castle Dale, and Price all summer long. There’s quite a bit of opportunity for these equestrian athletes to compete,” Cresto said.

The club is open to new members; riding experience is preferred but not required. Likewise, it’s great if a prospective club member has a horse, but it shouldn’t be a barrier if they don’t. Club leaders may be able to arrange for renting a horse for a youth. Cresto encourages interested families to check it out.

“It’s definitely worthwhile. It teaches your kids hard work and ethics and to care for something other than themselves,” she said.