LOWRYS -- Maybe the drive begins when you're raised in a barn and your mother remodels a tack area to make your bathroom. Or perhaps it's when you cut hay and mend fences after school so you'll have money to calf rope.
For reasons that escape most folks, Holland Sloan, Pearce Sloan and Coy Wilson don't mind giving up their free time to risk broken bones and bruises.
They are teenage rodeo warriors, and their lives revolve around dusty arenas. By the end of next month, they hope to have a spot in Farmington, N.M., where the country's best high school rodeo kids will compete for national glory in July.
Only three local students ride in S.C. High School Rodeo Association events. All attend Chester High School and live in Lowrys, a farming community in northern Chester County where learning to ride a horse is like learning to pedal a bicycle.
"Around here, it's just kind of a way of life," said Ginny Sloan, whose daughters spend their weekends battling kids from across the state -- and each other -- in rodeo contests.
Both girls are sophomores. Holland is 16, and Pearce is 15. Their horse-riding colleague is Coy, a 17-year-old junior.
Rodeos are the Friday night lights for these teens. Years ago, they gave up soccer, baseball and other sports to ride. They speak a cowboy language. "Rodeo" can be a verb, as in "I rodeo every weekend." "Barrels" and "poles" are the Sloan girls' specialties, separate events that challenge riders to maneuver their horses around obstacles -- barrels or poles -- in the fastest time possible.
Winning sometimes means beating your sister, which doesn't bother either girl.
"It's like two competitions," Pearce said. "One between me and her, and the rest (are) me and her against everybody else. We'll, like, defend each other against anybody else ... I like to be first and her be second."
After the first rodeo of the season in Hartsville, which Pearce won, the ride home consisted of this constantly repeated conversation:
"Holland, who won barrels tonight?"
But Holland got her payback.
"The past 20 rodeos, I've been spanking her, and I just sit back there and I don't say nothin'," Holland said.
Coy also is competitive. He traded baseball cleats for cowboy boots before he turned 10 and got hooked on calf roping, his specialty. He's dedicated. He claims to have broken his left arm four times and his right arm three times in rodeo-related accidents.
"The orthopedic doctors knew us by name," said his mom, Lisa Madden.
But injuries haven't deterred Coy.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "it's just a rush being able to dismount off a horse that's going wide open. And it almost feels like a rocking chair motion. It just has a feel to it."
Horse fever struck both Coy and the Sloan sisters at a young age.
Holland and Pearce were raised on a 100-acre farm they call a "retirement home," where they cared for discarded race horses and polo ponies. Their first pony, Pedro, belonged to a rodeo clown and could perform tricks.
The girls grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in the back of a hay barn. A few years ago, Ginny Sloan had saved enough money to build a house, but Holland liked the barn.
"This is my only home," she told her mother.
So, her mom converted the entire barn into a house. She built another place for the horses.
Coy started riding at age 7. He took a year off to play baseball when he was about 8, then came back to riding. He gradually moved into calf roping and the adrenaline rush of the rodeo world.
As the kids got older, they became better riders. All three joined the high school rodeo circuit as freshmen. The events are held on weekends in the spring and fall. For students who want to go to the national competition, they must compete in many rodeos throughout the year, accumulating points at every contest.
For each category, which can be anything from barrel racing to bull riding, the top four finishers in the state qualify to compete at the national level. Holland and Coy made it there last year, traveling to Springfield, Ill.
Going into last weekend's rodeo, Holland was tied for first in the state in poles, and Pearce was ranked 11th. In barrels, Holland was fourth and Pearce was sixth. Coy was fourth in calf roping.
Parents haul their kids and horses to each weekend contest. This can last for a dozen weeks in a row. The families become a band of weary travelers, seeing each other at various destinations and sometimes holding cookouts.
"It's kind of like tailgating every weekend," Madden said. "It's the same families."
Although parents say a trip can be tiring and expensive, they maintain it's worth the sacrifice to see their kids having fun and knowing where they are. The association also requires that students meet academic and behavioral standards.
"It keeps you out of trouble," Coy said. "I don't really like being in trouble 'cause I'm not really a good liar."
The cost of the rodeo league also forces the kids to look for sponsors or jobs. Holland is backed by A-1 Fence and Pearce gets help from Ronnie Stephenson's dairy farm.
"You're looking at them," his mom said of his sponsors.
Actually, Coy's parents told him he had to pay his own entry fees. So the guy who wants to someday make a living as a farmer earns money by cutting hay and doing other odd jobs on local farms.
"I feel like it's an honest trade," he said of the rodeo. "And I don't feel like there's too many out there. ... People respect it a little bit more."
The draw of the rodeo isn't easy to explain. Why was Holland glad when her boyfriend gave her a roping dummy for Christmas or why does Coy spend any free afternoons roping calves for hours?
"They don't really know another way, right now," Ginny Sloan said.
School friends usually understand.
"They just kind of get over it," Pearce said. "Cause .... that's basically my life."
But being in the rodeo doesn't make you any less a teenager.
"My friends at school ... some of those girls are your friends you can gossip with," Holland said. "My friends in rodeo, you can sit there if you've got a horse lame ... you can talk to them about it. And then you still can do, like, gossip."
For a gallery of photos from the rodeo in Lowrys, visit
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