McVEYTOWN - She has been riding horses for nearly half her life and this summer she will compete in the 64th Annual National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Autumn Ehrenzeller, 16, will compete in Pole Bending, whereby a rider must navigate around six poles in a straight line in an arena at breakneck speeds. But Ehrenzeller has also had to overcome a number of other obstacles besides poles and barrels to get where she is today.
The talented equestrian had open heart surgery at the end of her eighth-grade year, but two months later she was back in the saddle. Complications from that surgery kept her out of the Nationals last year, but this year she is ready to compete.
Sentinel photo by KIERNAN M. SCHALK
Autumn Ehrenzeller takes her horse Holly for a walk at their farm in McVeytown. Ehrenzeller will compete at the 64th Annual National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Autumn and her mother spend a lot of time with their horses, especially "Hollys Play N Doc," which they acquired through a friend.
"We were looking at other horses," Ehrenzeller said, but it turns out, Holly was a perfect fit.
"Horses have to adjust to a rider and riders have to adjust to a horse, it can take time," Autumn's mother, Vicki Ehrenzeller, said.
Autumn said the trainer they work with from Danville has been an amazing help in working with Holly.
"This is a lot of work and it takes a lot of help from other people," Vicki said.
The family's spacious barn and sprawling 27-acre property is home to four horses.
"They all have their own personalities," Vicki said.
After side-stepping the guard cats in front of the barn - Pickles, Max, Squiggy and the rest of the gang, who stand watch over the horses - Holly can be found among her other friends munching on hay.
Autumn said when the weather is nice and cool, the horses will spend the night outside in the field, with the cats watching over them while they graze.
Among the horses in the barn is 5-year-old Hobbies Hot Rod Clutch, a precocious horse, brimming with personality and eager to greet visitors. Clutch will be Autumn's college horse.
"She wants to go to a college with a rodeo team," Vicki explained.
Autumn said the young Clutch will have to be trained slowly over the next couple years to get ready for his college debut.
Autumn recently secured her spot at the Nationals after competing in Beaver Springs at the state finals. Each year she competes in about two dozen rodeos, from New York to Virginia, and has to keep her grade point average up to remain eligible.
Vicki said her daughter has to submit her grades to the state board because the rodeo year runs concurrent with the school year.
"This to encourage them to go to college," she added.
Vicki also said her daughter's school, Belleville Mennonite, has been very supportive.
"We are grateful to our sponsors as well," Vicki said of Lake Chevrolet, B's Screen Printing and Valley Ag and Turf, and Keith Booher Public Accountant.
Between now and Wednesday, Autumn and her mother will stock their trailer with supplies for the Nationals, which starts on July 15 and runs through July 21.
Autumn said that not only will they have to pack the usual clothes and miscellaneous items for themselves, they have to bring every conceivable thing you can think of for Holly.
"We have to bring about a hundred gallons of water," Vicki said, explaining that horses become accustomed to certain water.
The Nationals will attract the top four riders in each division from 41 states, five Canadian Provinces and Australia, who will compete for $300,000 in scholarships and $200,000 in prizes.