BY PAT FARNELLI
A local teen who has barrel raced her way to the top of 4H horseback riding competition in Pennsylvania and rodeo events in New York has now been chosen as Miss Teen Rodeo New York 2014.
Leah Ofalt, 16, of Dimock, has been barrel racing in Pennsylvania and New York as a member of National Barrel Horse Association of New York, 4H, and clubs since she was 10, and was selected to run for Miss Teen Rodeo N.Y.
She competed for the title at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Adirondack Stampede Rodeo at Glen Falls N.Y. on Nov. 8-9. All of the contestants competed in horsemanship, public speaking, written tests and interviews for the title, Leah said.
She won the speech competition as well as the overall title of Miss Teen Rodeo N.Y.
Her two-minute speech which she has memorized and can readily deliver, describes a young girl’s excitement at attending a rodeo with her family; and how each rodeo act embodies specific values, among them accomplishing difficult feats and caring for animals.
“Since 1936, through the tenacity of a group of courageous men and woman who formed the largest sanctioning body of professional rodeo, these values have been passed down from one generation to the next,” Leah’s speech reads, in part.
“I am so thankful that I have been blessed, like this little girl, to be raised with these values and also to participate in western events in the great state of New York. I’ve seen the spirit of competition that rodeo represents, and it can capture the hearts of all who watch and participate.
This prestigious sport has captured the heart of myself and my fellow contestants. And now, as this little girl’s father did, I desire to honor this great tradition of rodeo by helping to preserve the western way of life as I share this passion with others,” her speech concludes.
The Miss Teen Rodeo New York title carries with it certain responsibilities.
In addition to competing, Ofalt will make appearances for autographs and pictures with fans, often accompanying the newly chosen Miss Rodeo N.Y., who represents rodeo participants age 18-25.
Ofalt plans to continue her barrel racing career as an adult competitor.
“She can compete in this circuit when she is 18,” her mother, Ruthie Ofalt, said. “She now competes in the NBHA Open Division.”
The NBHA has a youth division, while the PRCA does not. Ruthie competes as a barrel racer in the PRCA circuit; and alongside Leah and 13-year-old daughter, Lydia, in the open division of the NBHA.
As top competitors, the Ofalts earn enough prize money to not only break even, but to profit from this sport.
Leah feels confident she can achieve state champion in barrel racing and pole bending.
Pole bending is an event not included in rodeo, but it is included in NBHA events,” her mother said.
“(Leah) has placed in the top five in the state. Pole bending, a timed event, involves weaving through six poles rather than barrels, and since they are placed closer together, this event is very challenging,” Ruthie explained.
“Her times are state champ times, but since you only compete once a year, that one time she didn’t do so good at the state competition, but she still came in fourth, which is great,” Ruthie said.
Leah doesn’t know how she placed in the National Barrel Horse Association for this year’s competition yet, but she is fourth and fifth in the state of PA for 4H.
In New York, she competes with the Maine Mavericks Club out of Whitney Point N.Y. for the NBHA’s NY 06 division, which she has been doing since the age of 10.
She has also qualified to go to World Competition in Georgia for the past two years.
In August, Leah raced in the barrel competition of the Dave Martin Pro Rodeo at the Harford Fair, competing against rodeo professionals and others who qualified.
She came in fourth in a group of 16, her mother said. “She just missed the money, with prizes going to the top three.”
Leah was riding Paityn’s Little Katie, a mother-daughter shared horse registered with the NBHA.
The Ofalt family has three quarter horses, but Katie is the only one trained for competition.
She fared better the night before, winning the youth division of the Open Speed show in open polebending and coming in second in Youth Barrel.
For her senior project at Elk Lake High School, Leah is breaking and training Caffeine, a one-year-old filly, who is showing signs that she could be the fastest barrel racing horse in the Ofalt family’s stable.
Leah has also trained a rescue horse bought on the way to a slaughterhouse.
Skin and bones, the horse was patiently rehabilitated over 1-1/2 years and eventually made it to state competition for 4-H.
Now, the horse, known as Jina’s Pretty Girl, has been turned back to the owners who rescued her, and their 11-year-old daughter showed her at the Harford Fair Horse Show.
Besides barrel racing, Leah is extremely competitive in swimming, and is a member of the Elk Lake High School swim team. The first swim meet is scheduled to be held Dec. 10 in Berwick.
“I’m looking to get a school record in the 100 meter breaststroke, 50 meter freestyle, and the 200 individual medley,” she said with confidence.
Last year, she broke her knee early in the season in an icy parking lot, and wasn’t able to swim competitively until Districts.
For her rodeo crown, Leah won cash and prizes from sponsors: Cowgirl Couture, Prestige Oakdale Images, Rowdy Silver, Lanie’s Leather, Ruthann’s Bridal, Rodeo Diva Designs PRCA Pro Rodeo.