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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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'A Family Deal'
by Sunnie Redhouse - Navajo Times

Kids start young in rodeos, parents tout positive benefits

SHIPROCK, AZ - Gary Clark and his wife Ann Clark had big plans for retirement nearly five years ago.

They wanted to use the money they saved to travel the country.

But in the blink of an eye, their grandson, Justin Lane Yazzie, changed all their plans.

"He saw those kids, riding those horses out there," Gary Clark said. "So we bought him a horse, an old mare."

Now, instead of traveling the country far from their Shiprock home, they travel the country near and far with their grandson from rodeo to rodeo with a horse trailer.

On May 31, at the Navajo Nation Cowboy Days Western Junior Rodeo Association rodeo in Shiprock, the family didn't have to travel very far.

Clark said Yazzie's mother, Kelley Clark, was an avid basketball player. But they were open minded and ready for the challenge of rodeo, because all they wanted was to see their then 5-year-old grandson happy.

Yazzie started quickly and progressed since the first time he leaped up on his horse.

"He started barrels, then he just progressed from there. He was wooly riding on Friday and Saturdays, and one year we just entered in the Shiprock fair rodeo," he said. "For some reason he just took to animals."

Enjoying animals
Yazzie said he likes playing with animals and being around his friends.

Now 10 years old, Yazzie competes in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway and team roping.

He said his horse, Kash, is what has helped him become the rodeo athlete he is now.

"I named him Kash because he always makes cash for me," Yazzie said.

Yazzie said his most cash-driven event is team roping, which also happens to be his favorite event.

"I like team roping because I get to rope with my partner," he said. "I practice with my cousins, sometimes I get on my roping dummy and I rope."

And sometimes, he practices with his friends just like he did in between events at Shiprock.

Behind the rodeo arena, Yazzie, his grandfather and a group of friends hung out by his horse trailer. While his grandfather tended to his horse, Yazzie practiced on his roping dummy with close friend Cota Nahkai.

Nahkai and Yazzie are the same in many ways. They both participate in the same events, they both love rodeo and both of their families are new to rodeo.

In Yazzie's family, he alone is the rodeoer. But, in Nahkai's family he is only one of four rodeoers in the family.

Nahkai's older brother Colby Nahkai, older sister Codee Nahkai and father Dwane Nahkai all rodeo.

Dwane Nahkai said he dabbled in team roping but didn't do it often and learned on his own.

"I did team roping, practiced with the kids. When I was young my father wasn't around and I had to do things on my own," he said. "My mother raised us but I was the only one who kept roping."

So he taught his eldest son, Colby Nahkai.

Starting young
Colby started when he was six years old. Dwane Nahkai said once his son got a taste of rodeo he couldn't get enough.

"He did rodeo here and there, when he was 12 years old he did junior rodeo," Dwane Nahkai said. "He just kept going. He just wanted to do it more."

And now, he teaches his younger siblings, behind the gates or chutes, changing saddles or tying loose ends.

Colby Nahkai, 16, is also a standout basketball player. He has been selected to play in the Down Under Hoops Classic July 19-30 at the Gold Coast in Australia.

In the meantime, rodeo is his life.

Colby Nahkai said his interest in rodeo started simple but has become something he takes seriously.

"I travel and to get to meet new people and make new friends," he said. "I just like being around animals a lot. I like calf roping because it's really competitive."

His sister and Dwane Nahkai's only daughter, 14-year-old Codee Nahkai, is quite competitive herself.

Codee Nahkai proudly claims pole bending as her favorite event out of the three other events she participates in.

"Because you get to weave through six poles," she said. "What's fun about it is you get to hold the reins and go back and fourth with the horse.

"I'm pretty sure the horse likes weaving back and forth," she said.

Codee's interest was driven by curiosity.

"When I used to be small, my parents used to take us to rodeos," she said. "I used to sit there and I wondered if I could ever get in it."

She not only got in it, she became good enough to win the Western Junior Rodeo Association coed calf-roping event in 2007 and wears the buckle to prove it.

Her partners in crime are Mr. Quick and Pebbles, but Pebbles is her favorite because he goes faster in the pole-bending event.

Rough fun
Codee's 9-year-old brother, Cota Nahkai, enjoys the roughness of calf riding and he likes it that way.

"I like fast ones, they like to buck," he said. "I have a hat, no helmet, because they're small and easy."

With three children in rodeo, Dwane Nahkai said things can get rough at times but in the end he knows that it's all worth it.

"It's a lot but I think it's just to keep our kids out of trouble," he said. "They can experience something else."

He said he truly believes that his children's participation in rodeo has positively influenced them. They respect the sport and the hard work that goes along with it.

"Responsibility, taking care of the horses' the trailer ...hands on responsibility," he said. "It keeps them busy instead of just staying home and watching TV."

Gary Clark agrees.

Clark said his grandson enjoys every aspect of rodeo life.

"He really enjoys it," Clark said. "I get to travel and see my friends from other places."

Clark said though he and his wife's retirement plans have changed they wouldn't change a single thing.

Clark said he and his wife have been very fortunate to be able to see his grandson rodeo and spend time with him when they travel.

"They say 'rodeo family' and it's right, it's a family deal," he said. "It's a big rodeo family deal, we know just about all the other kids. One day you're here the next day we can be in Page. Later on he's going to learn something from it."

Even they had to trade in their retirement plans.

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