TOWNSEND — Rodeo is a big part of Montana. The same could be said for Townsend's Ella Begger, who recently became the 2023 National High School Finals Rodeo champion in pole bending with a total time on three runs of 59.615 seconds.
"Going into the short round I was like, let’s just go make a run," Begger told MTN Sports.
This year's finals included 188 pole benders who traveled to Gillette, Wyo. from all over the nation and other countries including Canada, Mexico and Australia. Due to the international competition, the winner is considered a world champion.
Ella and her quarter pony Pepper have grown up together for the last 10 years, with Ella being only 7 years old when her parents first purchased the young horse in North Dakota.
"We're just more like two peas in a pod, I just love this horse so much, she's given me quite a bit of opportunities in life and she's just showed me so much that I can do, I know her inside and out," said Begger.
As she got older, the pair were each able to learn the rodeo events together and started out competing in youth rodeos around the region. Begger first started junior high rodeo as a sixth grader and made the national team every year in middle school.
Begger first made the Montana nationals team her sophomore year claiming the State Champion Pole Bender in 2022 title. She earned the 2023 buckle once again before she would go on to become the Pole Bender Champion in Gillette.
Each contestant performed twice throughout the week, with the top 20 making the final performance.
“(My parents) are always encouraging us to be better, they always support me,” added Begger, who also has two younger siblings.
The pole bending pattern is simple. For the most part, it is just a weaving stake-like pattern that goes around six evenly spaced poles. The pattern for pole bending is the same no matter where you go. This way times can easily be compared with each other, and records are easier to keep track of.
The riders guide their horses through this pattern as fast as possible without knocking over any poles.
“It’s so competitive in Gillette, as far as there’s so many girls that can make quick runs, so I definitely was way more nervous last year and that caused me to tip I think, but this year I was like, I think we can do it, I think we can be a world champion," explained Begger. "After my first run, I was a little unsure, but Pepper came out the second run a-blazin’ and she did awesome.”
Begger and Pepper are the first Montanans to claim the World Champion title since 2004, and only the third since 1960.
"I owe it all to my horse and my family, Montana is still a big rodeo community and to bring back the world champion, is just so amazing," said Begger.
The Montana High School Rodeo Association saw six top ten finishers at nationals this year, including Begger.
Helena Capital’s Hailey Burger placed fourth in goat tying. Leighton Lafromboise of Boulder, finished top 8 in the bareback riding.
Peyton Levine, Wolf Creek, finished in the top six in breakaway roping. Riley Mapston, Belt, finished top ten in tie-down roping. Ryatt Frazer, Hysham, received sixth place in the boys cutting event.