NEW PARIS — Sarah Kezar has been riding horses since she can remember. Her experience paired with her fearlessness and love of speed helped her become one of the top barrel racers in the state.

Kezar, 17, of New Paris, is competing in the 66th annual National High School Finals Rodeo in the barrel racing competition.

The competition is being held in Rock Springs, Wyo., between July 13 and 19. More than 1,500 contestants from 42 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia are competing as well.

Each racer has two rounds, and the top 20 in each category go on to the final round, which will be televised as part of the Cinch High School Rodeo Tour telecast series on RFD-TV.

Kezar grew up learning the ins and outs of rodeo. Her father, Kevin, was a professional bull rider.

“He was in rodeo before I was born and while I was growing up,” she said. “So I was always back behind the shoots with the bull riders and I watched barrel racers go.”

Kezar started racing when she was in eighth grade, learning from friends, training her horse and teaching herself. Focused on school, her job and racing, Kezar used her weekends to train and go to competitions.

Her dad — her coach — used as many weekends as Kezar to drive her to competitions and help her train.

“My dad’s been very supportive from the beginning because he’s been in rodeo, he knows the adrenaline rush you get from it and the feeling. He just understands,” she said. “He’s very supportive. He’ll do whatever it takes to support me.”

During the last few years, Kezar competed in numerous events, but last year was when she first signed up in the National High School Rodeo Association, with the goal of making it to the National High School Finals Rodeo.

Now that she’s met her goal, it’s obvious: to make it to the top 20 finalists.

But Kezar’s racing career is just starting. She is moving in the fall to Oklahoma State University, where she will be part of the rodeo team.

She’s also studying animal science with a focus on the equine program. She also plans to have a minor in agribusiness management.

And her goals don’t stop there.

“Once I graduate, I want to move to the professional ranks,” Kezar said. “I’ll get some insight off my college card to compete in some professional rodeos. I’ll get a head start there.”

Now that Kezar is moving, her father will have some new time on his hands.

“It’s going to be different for me. She’s going to continue on, but I’m not going to be as involved because of the distance and all,” he pauses, and adds, with a smile: “but we’ll keep in touch.”

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