Matt Triplett and Lexy Rianda are typical teenagers with very untypical weekend hobbies.
When the school week’s over, Triplett likes to hop on the back of an angry, one-ton bull. Rianda prefers to wrestle down goats and ride horses at breakneck speed. They both understand where their sport stands in the pantheon of high school competition.
“Rodeo is such a unique sport,” Rianda said.
Triplett, a sophomore at Columbia Falls High School, and Rianda, a senior at Flathead High School, are members of the Flathead Valley High School Rodeo Team. They both enter this weekend’s district tournament in Kalispell as favorites in their respective events. Triplett sticks solely to bull riding, while Rianda is accomplished in goat tying, breakaway roping, team roping, pole bending and barrel racing.
Rianda is the defending goat tying state champion while Triplett, who placed in the top 10 in bull riding last year as a freshman, is currently ranked No. 3 in Montana. Rianda is ranked No. 1 in the state in goat tying this year and No. 2 in breakaway roping, as well as being the fourth-highest ranked all-around performer.
Rianda qualified for nationals last year while Triplett was invited to the Silver State competition in Nevada, which featured roughly 150 of the top high school bull riders in the West. He placed eighth.
The District 5 rodeo tournament will be held at Majestic Valley Arena on May 31 and June 1, with the cutting competitions taking place on May 30. District 5 is the biggest in the state, with a range that extends throughout Western Montana, Triplett said. At districts, Triplett and Rianda are looking to qualify for June’s state finals in Missoula.
Triplett said he is one of two high school bull riders in the valley. He practices under the watchful eye of his dad, Pat Triplett, a former bull riding star. Following his father’s footsteps, the younger Triplett began riding steers when he was 12 years old.
Rianda also comes from a rodeo family. Her father was the second-ranked steer wrestler in the nation in college while her mother won the California high school state title in goat tying. Surrounded by so much rodeo influence, it’s not surprising that Rianda started rodeo when she was 6. Her parents are still her coaches.
For Triplett, it’s difficult to explain the sensation of squaring off against a massive bull, and even more difficult to explain what it’s like to conquer the bull.
“There’s not a better feeling than when you ride that bull,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Rianda, meanwhile, has a different relationship with the animal she rides. The large beast underneath her is her teammate, not her opponent. Her horse, Bishop, is 7 years old, or “just a youngster,” which leads to occasional miscues, she said. But she has faith and a special bond with Bishop.
“You have to have a lot of trust in your own horse,” Rianda said. “When you’re on a young horse you have to take what comes.”
In goat tying, a goat is attached to a 10-foot rope. The participant rides rapidly up to the goat on a horse, dismounts, catches the goat, controls it and then ties its legs in the fastest possible time.
Bull riding is, by most accounts, the most well-known rodeo event. It’s intense, brief and wild. And Triplett, who only weighs 135 pounds, loves it, particularly when he gets an aggressive bull.
“You just go out, you against the bull,” Triplett said. “You can’t really do anything else. Hopefully you come out on top in the end.”
Triplett still has two more years of high school left, but Rianda is off to Montana State University, where she has accepted a scholarship to participate in rodeo. Teammate and fellow Flathead senior Sarah Ham is also going to MSU for rodeo. Rianda isn’t quite ready to leave behind the rodeo culture, which she says has created lasting bonds with kids from around the state. Rodeo kids tend to relate to each other.
“It’s kind of like your second family,” Rianda said.
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