Tegan O'Callaghan may not have finished inside the top placings at a mayor international youth rodeo in North America last week but said just being there representing the Far North was an unforgettable experience which she will take plenty away from.

The 17-year-old Kaitaia College student found herself competing in a massive field competing in the barrel racing at the 26th annual International Finals Youth Rodeo which ran from July 8-13 at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

While not entirely sure of her final placing — if there was one — in the field of 228 other competitors, O'Callaghan was still pleased with her performance in Oklahoma.

"It was a really awesome experience and I feel very thankful I was able to see what rodeo was like in America. I found everyone in Texas and Oklahoma was very polite and interested to hear about New Zealand which was cool."

"I had two clean runs where I was close to the barrel, ran straight lines and my time improved by my second run. However you're always going to improve with the more runs you get," she said.

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"I'm used to riding different horses because I've travelled to Australia and ridden different horses there, so that wasn't a massive issue."

Tegan O'Callaghan (right) and Australian JRA team-mate Brandee Ferguson buckle up at the 26th International Finals Youth Rodeo in Oklahoma last week.
Tegan O'Callaghan (right) and Australian JRA team-mate Brandee Ferguson buckle up at the 26th International Finals Youth Rodeo in Oklahoma last week.

The Far North teenager said she wasn't overly daunted at being pitted against against some of the most talented youth rodeo exponents in the world.

"The biggest difference between America and New Zealand rodeo is it is on a bigger scale. Both countries have the same range of horsemanship but as America is much bigger there is more competition at the top level."

As the first New Zealander to compete at the event — albeit entering as part of the Australian Junior Rodeo Association contingent — O'Callaghan said she was made welcome.

"It was a really awesome experience and I feel very thankful I was able to see what rodeo was like in America. I found everyone in Texas and Oklahoma was very polite and interested to hear about New Zealand which was cool."

The respect was clearly mutual with organisers organising an interview with Tegan on a local television station, of which an impressed IFYR spokeswoman Lauren Daughtey said, "She just great!"

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The International Finals Youth Rodeo, held annually since 1993, presents top high school athletes with a professional rodeo. The world's richest youth rodeo, this year's IFYR ended last Friday and more than $250,000 in prize money, championship saddles and buckles were awarded.

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This year's event was contested by more than 850 contestants — a total of 1411 event entries, many competing in more than one discipline — from 33 states along with those Australia and New Zealand.

After two long-go runs and the initial 10 first round performances, the top 15 contestants competed in the finals for a shot at 12 championship titles: barrel racing, bull ride, breakaway roping, bareback bronc riding, team roping, pole bending, steer wrestling, saddle bronc, goat tying and tie down roping, as well as the allround cowboy and cowgirl belts.

The eventual winners hailed from Texas (5), Louisiana (3), with one title each for Iowa, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma.