Arkansas has one of the best high school bareback horse riders in the world

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The Arkansas Cowboy

OZARK, Ark. — Giddy up! 17-year-old Hayden Leavell is going into his senior year at Ozark High School.

That may sound normal, but Leavell isn’t your usual high schooler. Along with his studies, Leavell has to tend to his parent’s farm taking care of their cattle, 125,000 chickens and the other animals that they have. Not only that, but he’s playing high school football.

You would think that with all that, Leavell wouldn’t have time to do anything else. However, in his 13-hour workdays Leavell has become one of the best high school bareback horse riders in the world.

“You can possibly get killed or seriously hurt,” Leavell said. “It’s fun. Some people enjoy playing soccer or basketball. It’s a sport. Some people don’t look at it like it’s a sport. But, it’s how good can I be to compete against somebody else.”

In a year, Leavell competes in about 200 rodeos. 40 in Arkansas. Leavell ended the 2021 season as the Arkansas reserve champion and punched his ticket to the High School World Finals in Lincoln, Nebraska, competing against other cowboys from America, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.

“It was awesome,” Leavell said. “I didn’t do as good as I wanted to. I’ll have one more year next year as a senior to compete. It was definitely a blessing and a pleasure to go.”

But, that’s not all! Leavell also competes in ‘bulldogging’ and ‘team roping’ at rodeos.

“I practice more for bulldogging and team roping,” Leavell added. “Work slows me down a lot.”

Oh yeah… can’t forget about work! Here’s a day-in-the-life of Hayden Leavell.

“The summer when I didn’t have football practices, I’d get up at 5:00 a.m. and go take care of all the livestock we got. Then go work out with two of my buddies at the gym at about 6:00 a.m. for about an hour and a half. Then go to work. Work until probably 5:30 p.m. Then usually do all my rodeo stuff, take care of riding horses and roping. About 8:30 – 9:00 p.m. come back, get something to eat and then go to bed.”

Leavell said that the 13 hour days are tough, but he prides himself on a good work ethic. Something his parents taught him and has made him the person he is today.

“The next week after we get done playing games on Friday night Hayden texted me saying, ‘Hey man when do you want to start working out?’,” Leavell’s best friend and teammate Harper Faulkenberry said. “I was like, ‘What?’ He was like, ‘Yeah man I want to start working out together.’ I was like golly, this guy! The season just ended and I want to take a break, chill and dunk hunt. He was ready to get back on his grind.”

Leavell has ridden horses all of his life, but his rodeo career started in 2018 at a camp in Colorado. One of the reasons Leavell believes he’s so good is because rodeos are in his blood.

In the 70-80’s his great uncle competed in rodeos professionally. Leavell’s dad rode bulls in high school.

“People like to watch rodeos, but I’d rather be in it than watching it.”

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