Like most middle school girls, Jenna Hume could not wait to try out her new Christmas present.
It was 2016, and some of her friends were probably excited to tinker with the latest electronic gadget or were thrilled with a new handbag or makeup.
Hume was equally elated about her favorite present: a new goat-tying dummy.
“She’s my little perfectionist. She wants to do everything perfect, so she works hard,” said Jess Hume, Jenna’s father. “She got a goat-tying dummy last Christmas, and she tied it from Christmas Day to the first rodeo every day. I don’t think she missed a day. She took it with us on trips; it went everywhere.”
The present and the practice paid off.
By the end of last summer, Jenna, a 13-year-old from rural Orfordville, had proven herself as one of the best all-around teenage rodeo cowgirls in the state of Wisconsin.
“I just try to go out and do the best I can each day,” Jenna said. “I just don’t like missing any rodeos. I have two or three really good friends that I rodeo with.
“(Some friends at school) think it’s weird I practice so much sometimes. But it’s the same for their sport, too.”
Jess Hume took to rodeo when his father, who worked for General Motors, bought a couple horses out at the farm where Jess and his family live now. Jess and his younger brother competed around the Midwest and even sometimes on the national stage in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Back when I thought I could make a living out of that,” Jess said.
Jenna, along with her younger brother, C.J., fell quickly for the sport after she took part in her first competition in the Little Britches junior division in 2015.
“We went to Gays Mills, and she met the girl who is her best friend now, met that family there,” Jess recalled. “And she was hook, line and sinker. You could just feel it.”
By last summer, it was time for Jenna to compete in the Little Britches senior division, which is open to competitors ages 13-18.
She rides three different horses to compete in her events.
“Cowboy” is a black horse that is 23 years old that Jess used for team roping during his rodeo days. Jenna mainly rides “Cowboy” for pole bending and goat tying.
In pole bending, competitors show off their horsemanship by weaving their horse between six poles arranged in a line, with the goal of clocking the fastest time. Knocking over a pole will cost a competitor a time penalty.
In goat tying, a competitor rides toward a tethered goat, dismounts, catches, throws and ties any three of its legs together. The goat must stay tied for six seconds or the competitor’s time is disqualified.
“I can use ‘Cowboy’ for everything,” Jenna said. “I started riding him two years ago, and he’s consistent.”
“Junior” is a 21-year-old white horse that Jenna uses for breakaway roping, an event where the competitor must lasso a calf after it runs out of a chute. Once the rope is around the calf’s neck, the roper signals the horse to stop suddenly. The rope is tied to the saddle horn with a string, and when the calf hits the end of the rope, it is pulled tight and the string breaks and stops the clock.
And “Shiloh” is Jenna’s new barrel racing horse, a 6-year-old that the family bought in the past year or so.
“She’s a lot younger and very sassy,” Jenna said. “‘Cowboy’ and ‘Junior,’ you have to steer them and kick them. ‘Shiloh’ just likes to be let go.
“We’re trying to make her into a nice, solid barrel horse.”
Jenna also sometimes competes in team roping.
She didn’t miss a single Little Britches rodeo last year, making nine stops, including the Finals. There were more than 70 competitors in pole bending and barrel racing, with about 50 in goat tying and 20 to 30 in breakaway, said Amy Hume, Jenna’s mother.
When Jenna went to the Finals rodeo in Holmen in mid-September, she knew she could finish in the top two in the year-end standings in pole bending and in the top four in goat tying. And she could finish somewhere in the top three in the all-around, which combines points accrued throughout all the events.
Jenna came home with four new belt buckles.
She finished second in both poles and goat tying. And in breakaway roping, she did something she’d never done in competition—successfully catch three calves in a row (one the weekend before and two during Finals)—to finish fourth overall.
“I had never even caught two in a row at a rodeo until the middle of the season,” Jenna said. “But I think I caught the last day (of the year), and that’s what got me fourth place.”
As the dust was settling, Jess attempted to do some math in his head. He thought Jenna had finished in the top two in the all-around. When awards presenters called out a third girl’s name as the runner-up, Jess assumed Jenna had finished in third. But then they called Jenna’s name as the winner.
“I got a tear in my eye that day, because all-arounds aren’t easy,” Jess said. “She had to convince me a couple times (that she should go to a rodeo). She even texted me when I was in France, ‘Dad, I need to keep going to these rodeos. I’m doing really well.’”
This summer, Jenna will dedicate more of her time to the Wisconsin Junior High School Rodeo Association.
The Humes said there are probably 15 families within a 90-minute drive of their house that have kids that compete in rodeos. Jenna said she’s got a group of about eight or nine friends that push her to keep getting better.
“It makes you work hard,” she said. “We go to each other’s trailers and tie a goat, and if I see something I think she’s doing a little weird, I tell her, and she tells me things, too.”
Jenna enjoys goat tying and breakaway roping the best.
“I’m not great at goat tying, but I was really bad. I improved so much from last year to this year,” Hume said. “At first I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like to breakaway rope. But now I like them more, just because it’s more hands-on. You control those events a little more.”
Most of Jenna’s practice time comes in the arena outside the Humes’ back door. She tries to practice two events every day, or at least every other day when school is in session.
Winter tends to throw a wrench into those plans. The arena becomes unusable, and goats that the family gets to practice on in the summer are not kept through the winter months.
That doesn’t mean Jenna stops practicing.
It just means a little more time with her favorite recent Christmas present.