Rodeo standouts qualify for Tuffest Jr. World Championships

Campbell County rodeo standouts, from left, Keyton Hayden, Rozlyn Herren and Kolton Miller along with Ashlyn Goven (not pictured) qualified for the Tuffest Jr. World Championship rodeo in Las Vegas which was held recently during the National Finals Rodeo. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

With high school rodeo in a hiatus between the winter and spring seasons, the dirt isn’t flying locally. However, there is never a break for cowboys and cowgirls as there is always work to do in their sport.

Four local rodeo standouts recently scored one of the biggest honors in the sport. Keyton Hayden, Ashlyn Goven, Kolton Miller and Rozlyn Herren qualified to compete among the best cowboys and cowgirls from two countries at the Vegas Tuffest Jr. World Championships.

The Campbell County stars were among 945 contestants from 27 different states including Hawaii and four provinces in Canada to qualify for the national event Dec. 2-6. The showcase of the best young talent is held the first weekend of the professional National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas.

Ashlyn Goven

“We held 37 qualifiers across the United States and Canada to give our rodeo youth an equal chance to make it to Vegas and the opportunity to win their share of $1 million in cash and prizes,” said Sherrylynn Johnson, the organizer and four-time qualifier of the NFR.

Sherrylynn along with her husband Mike Johnson, an ironman of rodeo who has qualified for the NFR a stunning 23 times, said the event showcases the best in barrel racing, double mugging, goat tying, breakaway roping and tie-down roping.

“We have different age groups – 19 & under, 15 & under, 12 & under and 10 & under,” Sherrylynn said. “We’re the highest stakes payout in four events for youth in rodeo history.”

Participants not only compete for a portion of the large purse, but also saddles, rope cans, buckles and World Championships rings, among the many prizes.

Getting the chance to qualify and compete on such a large stage is something that most cowboys and cowgirls work a lifetime to achieve. The Campbell County foursome is a young and talented group that will learn from the experience and give them an added boost as they look to the future after making memories in Las Vegas.

Kolton Miller

Kolton Miller (RJ Morgan/County 17)

The 12th grader from Gillette competed in the 19-and-under division of tie-down roping. His lifetime best time in the event is 8.75 seconds.

This wasn’t the first time Kolton has taken on the nation’s best. He qualified for the Tuffest nationals last year in Tulsa, Okla. where he said he had a “decent run.”

Qualifying again was clinched at a rodeo in Torrington earlier this year.

The 17-year-old has been in many big rodeos. He admits it never gets old, it’s always a learning experience and he still gets nervous.

“It’s very nerve racking and exciting at the same time,” he admitted. “Just competing against other athletes from around the country is fun.”

Kolton said he was excited to attend the national showcase with his new No. 1 horse.

“My horse’s name is Rooster and I’ve had him for eight years but just recently he has become my No. 1 and not my backup,” he said.

Rooster had a chance to warm up for the big event with an extra performance. The family made a detour on the way to Vegas and stopped in Guthrie, Okla. to compete in the 19th Annual WPRA Rising Stars at Lazy E.

Like most rodeo standouts, Kolton has competed all his life in the greatest sport on dirt. When high school season fires back up in March, he will compete in tie-down roping and team roping where Rooster will guide him in the quest for the state finals and perhaps qualify for nationals this summer.

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Kolton said keeping busy in a sport that requires work every day of the year is more than just a job, but rather his passion.

“The thrill – it never changes,” he said. “We treat our sport like every other sport, but rodeo goes year-round, so me personally I am practicing four to five times every week.”

With nonstop practicing and competing, there are memories galore for Kolton. However, one sticks out more than most.

“When I won the 14.5 in Brodus, MT. with Britt William who has been to the NFR and won two rounds,” he said.

After making memories at the Tuffest Jr. World Nationals, Kolton went to Arizona with his grandpa to team rope for a few weeks. After that, it will be a little family time before getting back to the daily grind as a cowboy.

For Christmas, “I’ll stay home with the family and enjoy life,” he said.

Kolton is the son of Sheila and Eric Slocum.

Ashlyn Goven

Ashlyn Goven

The 17-year-old, who calls Rozet home, is a senior in high school. She competed in barrel racing at her first ever Tuffest Jr. World Championships.

Ashlyn’s goal for her first performance at the Vegas event that she qualified for at a rodeo in Arizona was simple.

“My goal was to preform to the best of my ability and end up in the top five overall,” she said. “I can’t forget about trying to have fun as well.”

Ashlyn said that finishing among the best would be huge but that just getting the opportunity is a win-win situation for her career and growth.

“It feels good to be able to complete with this level of competition. Just being able to qualify is a big accomplishment,” she said. “I looked forward to the environment. It’s not every day we get to experience that kind of electricity at an event.”

The toughest decision she had to make was deciding which of her talented horses was going to carrying her through the national event.

“They are all extremely talented so it’s a hard decision,” she said of her barrel horses Irish, Dj, and Hopper. “I have been running them all for three-plus years.”

Like Kolton, Ashlyn also took advantage of a tune-up rodeo for the world championship. It actually took place simultaneously with the Tuffest nationals.

“I was invited to compete at the Western Legacy Tour Finals also in Las Vegas,” she said. “I competed in barrel racing, pole bending, and breakaway roping.”

The Nevada trip is all a tune-up for her big high school season that will resume in a couple of months. Ashlyn is having a stunning season so far as she is among the leaders chasing state titles and qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo in three events.

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“I complete in barrel racing, team roping, pole bending, and breakaway roping,” she said. “I am currently sitting first in the state in barrels, second in breakaway, and fourth in poles.”

It’s no surprise Ashlyn is one of the best in Wyoming. She has competed in rodeo since age 5, and there is no slowing down for this star cowgirl because she loves competing and everything that rodeo stands for.

What keeps her doing it year after year?

“The environment, people, the adrenaline rush, and the partnerships I’ve made with my horses. Everyone is always there to help one another, and they always support you,” she said. “Every time I ride into the arena and back into the roping box during a competition, it’s such a rush. The partnership I have made with my horses is probably my favorite though. To be able to understand an animal that weights over 1000 pounds that doesn’t speak takes lots of time and patience.”

Ashlyn said rodeo is like no other sport on the planet. It’s not seasonal and there are no breaks. It’s a way of life, not just something to do for a couple of months.

“We wake up and go take care of our animals before you take care of ourselves. When we get done with school we go home and practice and take care of them again,” she said. “I currently have 10 horses to ride and keep in shape, it takes me over half a day to get it done. Then on the weekends we drive hours to get a rodeo.”

With hundreds of rodeos to her credit, Ashlyn said there is no particular event that stands out because they all have special meaning.

“Honestly, it’s all a great memory,” she said of more than a decade of competing so far. “I have made so many friends and have had so many laughs due to rodeo. Every time I go into an arena it’s something I won’t ever forget.”

There will be no Christmas break for Ashlyn. While she will get to spend the holiday with her parents in Arizona, the work in the arena will continue through the winter.

“There are jackpots every day of the week, but the next big thing I me going to is at the beginning of March. I will be competing in the Hooey Junior Patriot and the American Semi Finals where hopefully I will be able to progress into the American Rodeo at AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas where I will have the chance to run at a million dollars,” she said.

Ashlyn is the daughter of Matthew and Jessica Goven.

Keyton Hayden

Keyton Hayden (RJ Morgan/County 17)

Rodeo is a family thing in the Hayden family. Keyton is in the midst of writing his legacy and it’s been a successful ride.

The 16-year-old from Gillette is in 10th grade and has been making a name for himself in rodeo most his life.

Keyton qualified for the Tuffest Jr. World Championships for the first time. He completed in calf roping where his best personal time is an 8.8-second run. He had the best finish of all local qualifiers on the big stage as he advanced to the short-go round.

“My goal for Vegas was to make no mistakes and be consistent throughout the week,” he said.

The star cowboy did that. It was a successful experience that was secured when he qualified in Torrington last spring.

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“To be able to compete at an event like this is truly a great opportunity,” he said. “To me, I looked forward to getting a chance to step out and compete against some of the toughest calf ropers in the country at my age for a lot of money.”

Keyton said the credit for him getting the chance to compete against the best in the United States and Canada goes to his teammate and best friend – his horse Luda.

“We have had her since last October, so a little over a year. I wouldn’t have been able to qualify to this event without the help of her,” he said. “In calf roping it is super important to have a horse that works good and can help, and I can’t think of any better horse than Luda to take to an event like this and help me out.”

Tuffest nationals is a massive stage to perform on, but it will be just another rodeo in the life of this cowboy. Keyton has been competing for the last 11 years and will soon be back to battling for state and NHSFR spots when he competes in calf roping, team roping and cutting.

“What made me fall in love with rodeo is mainly the environment and people around the events,” he said of starting his second decade of rodeo. “One of my favorite things about rodeos is in high-pressure situations or big events the adrenaline rushes start going and I love that.”

Keyton said no matter how many years or how many rodeos a cowboy or cowgirl competes in, the learning process is never ending. That is one of the great things about the sport, he admits.

“I’ve been competitively competing for the last 11 years, and I am still learning. In the years to come I will always be learning something,” he said. “One of the main things about rodeos is there’s always something you can still learn, and it takes multiple hours of practice and lots of dedication to get good at what you were doing and even then, sometimes you will not make the run you want or do as good as you thought you would. You just have to keep practicing and keep getting better.”

The journey has been quite the ride for Keyton. He has many memories and is excited to make many more with bigger rodeos in the future but there was one event he can’t ever forget.

“My favorite rodeo memory was two years ago in the winter time when we were down in Arizona at a team roping event and there was over 400 teams that were competing for two side-by-side’s and I had ended up roping two good steers and was high call back in the short round and we went out there and roped like we had been all day ended up winning the roping,” he explained. “This was probably one of my biggest wins ever because the prize was a side-by-side and back in 2011 my dad had won a truck at a team roping event and this was kind of in relation to that.”

Now that Tuffest nationals is over, it’s back to the daily grind in a sport that has no end.

“I will come back home and start practicing again and start roping multiple times a week to get prepared for the spring season of high school rodeos and upcoming jackpots.”

Of course, he will find a little time to enjoy the holiday.

“My plans for Christmas this year are just stay home with my family enjoy Christmas at our house.” He said.

Keyton is the son of Barry and Charity Hayden.

Rozlyn Herren

Rozlyn Herren (RJ Morgan/County 17)

The 16-year-old who is in 11th grade was unable to make the trip for family reasons. It was a tough decision to make but it wasn’t her first rodeo in earning the opportunity to take on the best in the sport

“I qualified for Vegas Tuffest World championship in the 19-and-under barrel racing. Unfortunately, I had to draw out due to my mother’s back surgery being scheduled at the same time as the Vegas rodeo,” she explained. “I have competed in this Vegas rodeo before in 2019. I competed in the barrel racing as well as goat tying qualifiers for the Jr. American.”

Rozlyn secured her spot at the Tuffest nationals at a qualifying rodeo held at the college barn in Powell.

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While she sat out the big event to be by her mother side, just getting the invitation is an accomplishment itself.

“Getting the opportunity to compete at such a big-time rodeo is such a great feeling. I would not have been able to do any of it without my family, friends and sponsors such as BCR to keep me down the road,” she said. “Although I (wasn’t) able to compete, it is still a great achievement of mine.”

The work will not stop as there will always be another rodeo. Rozlyn will continue to work through the winner as she prepares for the high school season to resume where she competes in goat tying and breakaway roping.

“I have competed in rodeos all my life, I don’t remember an exact date of when it started,” she said. “I was born into this lifestyle.”

Rodeo is life for Rozlyn. She has been in arenas all her life and her love for the sport runs deep.

“I fell in love with rodeo because every time you step on a horse, they give you their all,” she said. “Every rodeo seems to be different which makes it fun and addicting.”

Most of her friends enjoy the passion for her sport. However, there are those who compete in other sports that are seasonal, and they don’t see the commitment it takes to be in a sport that has no season, it’s 12 months a year.

“I believe that people who are not into rodeo don’t understand the amount of time and practice this sport takes,” Rozlyn said. “There is so much practice that goes on behind the scenes in order to be successful in this world.”

Rozlyn is the daughter of Tavey and Dusty Herren.