By Thomas Sellers Jr.
In the heart and mind of Brighton High School senior Riley Lenagar an angel was present at her signing day ceremony April 14.
The presence of her grandfather Mike was there in the BHS Gymnasium Lobby among friends, family, administration and Riley’s parents Heath and Amy Lenagar. With her brother Jack Simpson and grandmothers Charline Lenagar and Linda Dawson looking over her shoulder, Riley inked her letter of intent to become a part of the Northwest Mississippi Rodeo Team.
Her commitment to the Northwest Mississippi team under the guidance of Head Coach Shelli Benton made her dream and prediction of her late grandpa come true.
“It did come natural,” Riley said. “My Grandpa who passed away rode cutting horses. Grandpa was always like, ‘I want you on a horse.’ I was like ‘OK.’ So I started riding and when he passed away I was like, ‘I’m going to keep on riding. I going to keep doing it.’”
Riley said it was his dream that she would ride horses for the world to see. With her parents providing the finances, environment and encouragement, Riley chased her passion all over the United States.
“She’s had a love for horses since she was 2,” Amy said. “She’s rode Western Pleasure which is ride horsemanship. She’s kind of step it up to rodeo and barrel racing is her thing. It’s taken everyday just riding, feeding, tending to animals 365 days a year. Lots and lots of practice with family involvement. It takes a village.”
Things like Western Pleasure gave Riley an education in the sport of her heart. Western Pleasure is a western style competition at horse shows that evaluates horses on manners and suitability of the horse for a relaxed and slow but collected gait cadence, along with calm and responsive disposition.”
“I loved it,” Riley recalled. “Everyday I was like, ‘I want to ride a horse.’ Hitting a ball was cool too but I love the horses and all it.
“It’s just a part of it and I like it,” she noted about the extra care. “It gives me something to do before school, getting up feeding. They are worth it.”
After retiring from competitive softball, Riley dedicated her extra time to the competition of barrel racing. Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
Those fast times came with a price. Riley suffered bumps, bruises and even a concussion.
But each ache led to honors like two-time Junior NFR qualifier and Junior American qualifier. Lenagar recently at a performance at the Rodeo of the Mid-South. She also won the Bill Lipscomb Rodeo, and the Emily Prince Memorial Race. Lenagar was ranked in the top 25 in the nation among youth barrel racers in 2018
“She’s never had a fear of riding horses,” Heath declared. “From cows to horses, she’s been bucked off more than a little bit. But as she knows, you have to get back on. She’s never been scared.”
Don’t let the face and height fool you, Riley said Mike and Heath raised a tough rider.
“Never been scared, you can’t be scared,” she said. “You can’t live your life that way going around being scared.”
There was no fear when it came to her college future either. In the Mid-South area there are about nearly 10 schools with rodeo programs. With Northwest having classes toward her major, the home of the Rangers in Senatobia was the perfect fit.
“After Northwest I plan to go to Oklahoma and finish my college there — double major and continuing rodeo from there on,” Riley said.
Heath said Northwest is the ideal next step for his daughter and his daughter is the ideal athlete for the sport of rodeo.
“She’s been injured pretty bad but she’s never doubted it,” he recalled. “It’s always been her passion. This is what we wanted. We’ve put in a lot of years and hard work to get to this day. This is a milestone.”
The “we” Heath is speaking of includes Riley’s grandfather. And his granddaughter will continue to make him proud and pass on the family tradition.
“My kids won’t have a choice they will have to get on a horse,” she concluded. “The family tradition will continue. This was my Grandpa’s dream for me and it has come true.”