By Jeanie Hankins
It was almost too good to be true.
Sixteen-year-old Avery Shriver of Morristown had earned a spot at the 2019 National High School Rodeo Finals on a little horse called Hatty (Little Hatrick on his papers).
“He’s not big like a lot of cutting horses,” Avery says as she holds her hand up to about her own height. “And he didn’t cost near as much as some of those horses,” she says with a chuckle. Nevertheless, the communication between this girl and her horse, together with a lot of practice and a busy winter rodeo travel schedule, had placed them among the best in Arizona. They were on their way to Nationals.
Then, it was almost too bad to be true. With a spot in the finals all set, in May Avery got sick. It seemed like a cold she couldn’t get over. Abdominal pain set in. She was always tired. Multiple doctor visits and a smograsbord of possible diagnoses didn’t resolve the overwhelming aches, pains and lethargy. Finally, the condition became serious enough she ended up in Phoenix Children’s Hospital where she was told she had mononucleosis with an enlarged spleen. The only cure was bed rest. Doctors told her to stay inside – no riding, no practicing, no feeding or otherwise visiting her horses. Nothing. For six weeks, she was ordered to just rest.
Avery’s grandma, Ruth Shriver said, “She had to look at her horse out the window and not be able to ride and get ready. She overcame a lot.”
The nerves leading up to a national competition with no time to practice and no way to distract herself were a lot to deal with, Avery remembers. “It was so nervewracking.” Finally, the doctor gave her a nod of approval. “I barely got cleared to go,” she said.
So off to Rock Springs, Wyo., they went, hoping for the best. The National High School Rodeo Finals ran from June 23-29. It is a week-long event featuring young athletes in all the traditional professional rodeo events as well as several others.
Obviously, it wasn’t Avery’s or Hatty’s first rodeo. Avery had been cutting on Hatty for about three years, and his previous owners had been to the pay window enough to earn about $42,000 on him. Meanwhile, Avery competes in cutting as well as pole bending and working cow horse events, and she has been to the winner’s circle quite a few times herself in her youthful career. She’s won two saddles, about 40 buckles, several bronzes and multiple other awards in Arizona High School Rodeo as well as other events. And this wouldn’t be their first time in the arena without much practice. About 10 days after she first got Hatty, the duo won all-around in a Sun Circuit show including points for ranch horse, cutting, cow horse, reigning, ranch riding, trail and conformation, Avery said.
Drawing from their collective experience, and a successful season right up until the mono set in, the pair took to the arena for several rounds of competition throughout the week, pitted against about 100 horses and riders from all over the U.S. as well as other countries. Avery and Hatty took fourth in the first go and won the second round. When the dust settled they placed 15th in the world standings.
What did she win? “A pair of jeans,” she says with a laugh. “That’s it. Just jeans.”
But the experience has her wanting to earn her way back to the Finals next year. “I had a lot of fun, not just the rodeo part but getting to see everyone and meet everyone from all over the world,” she says.
Ultimately, Avery hopes to compete in college rodeo and professionally. For now, she heads back to class at Wickenburg High School this week. She might wear the new pants she earned in Rock Springs and the buckle she won last season at the Wickenburg high school rodeo. (It’s her favorite with purple and gold jewels and the Wrangler W.) Come September, she plans to hit the circuit again in hopes that she will make it to the National Finals in her other events, as well as cutting.