Not Her First Rodeo | God's World News

Not Her First Rodeo

  • 1 bullrider t
    Najiah Knight prepares to ride a bull during the 2023 Junior World Finals rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AP/John Locher)
  • 2 bullrider t
    Najiah Knight wants to become the first woman to compete at the top level of the Professional Bull Riders tour. (AP/LM Otero)
  • 3 bullrider t
    Najiah uses a practice barrel to work on bull riding skills with the help of her father at home in Arlington, Oregon. (AP/Amanda Loman)
  • 4 bullrider t
    Najiah competes during the 2023 Junior World Finals rodeo. (AP/John Locher)
  • 5 bullrider t
    A rider drops a baton into a barrel at a rodeo in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, in 2020. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)
  • 6 bullrider t
    A man competes in the first annual Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1910 (JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images)
  • 7 bullrider t
    A helicopter herds wild horses during a Utah roundup in 2021. (AP/Rick Bowmer)
  • 1 bullrider t
  • 2 bullrider t
  • 3 bullrider t
  • 4 bullrider t
  • 5 bullrider t
  • 6 bullrider t
  • 7 bullrider t


You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.

The bad news: You've hit your limit of free articles.
The good news: You can receive full access below.
WORLDteen | Ages 11-14 | $35.88 per year

Already a member? Sign in.

One-hundred-pound Najiah Knight drops down onto a 1,300-pound bull. The animal could buck her off at any moment.

She adjusts her ropes. Music blares in the arena. But 17-year-old Najiah hears only her dad, in the chute with her, and her mom, cheering from the stands. She nods to show she’s ready. A cowboy tugs the chute door.

The gate swings wide. Najiah and her bull burst into the ring and begin a violent dance.

Najiah’s goal? Become the first woman to compete at the top level of the Professional Bull Riders tour. She can’t join until she’s 18. Even then, she’ll have to prove she’s good enough to qualify. Only about 30 of the best riders from around the world reach the top. It takes time, travel, money, and, perhaps most of all, guts.

But Najiah shows no fear. “Since I was a little kid, three years old, I would tell my dad that this is what I’m gonna do,” she says. “I’m going to be a bull rider. I’m going to make it.”

Najiah was the only woman to qualify in the 16-18 age division for the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas in December.

To score, a bull rider must stay on the bucking animal for eight seconds while keeping one hand in the air, never touching the bull with that free hand. If eight seconds is achieved, both bull and rider are scored. The top score possible is 100.

Despite plenty of training with her dad in the driveway on a barrel set up with springs and levers, today isn’t Najiah’s winning day. She falls in just a couple seconds. “I wanted it to go perfectly,” she says. “But it doesn’t always go that way.” She’s disappointed but not destroyed. She says there’s always next time.

Except when there isn’t a next time. Najiah’s chosen sport is dangerous, chaotic, and violent. Bull riders frequently get injured, and some even die in the ring. Is her focus and determination worth the potential cost?

In many ways, Najiah is just a regular girl from Oregon. But her mom and dad saw her unusual pluck and an affinity for rodeo from the start. Her dad, Andrew Knight, says with a laugh that at age three Najiah started “mutton busting,” or riding sheep. “It was like she had Velcro pants on, and she’d stick to them.”

Her mom, Missi, adds, “There was no taming that fire.”

Rodeo History

Kicking up a cloud of dust, men riding bareback lean down from atop their horses. First to grasp the chicken buried up to its neck in the ground wins.

This competition started long ago among the Navajo Native Americans. People still practice it sometimes today—though they don’t use a live chicken anymore. It’s just one of the traditions that turned into the modern-day sport we call rodeo. In fact, in the Navajo Nation, rodeo is still called “ahoohai,” which comes from the Navajo word for “chicken.”

The word rodeo developed from the Spanish verb rodear, meaning “to encircle” or “to round up.” Today’s big, blingy rodeo competitions include contests such as barrel racing, bull riding, bareback bronco riding, calf roping, and steer wrestling.

But the rodeo traditions began with cowboys back in the 1800s. Ranch hands called vaqueros worked with livestock. The roping and riding come from them—along with cowboy culture’s leather boots and big hats.

Vaqueros could be Mexican, black, or North-American-born Spanish. Many were Native American—and that’s still true today. Arena competitions can feel like mini reunions for Native families. They watch cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills roping, riding, and wrestling livestock. Najiah Knight is one such cowgirl. She comes from the Native American Klamath Tribes.

Hearts for Horses

Many modern-day vaquero-types are horse lovers. But you don’t have to join a barrel race team or tame a bronco to adore all things equine.

Do you appreciate the animals for their sensitivity? Their strength? Their ability to get you from here to there? Or that exhilarating feeling of sailing through air on horseback? Horse lovers praise horses for their sensitivity, majesty, and empathy. The human-horse connection for some seems too great to put into words.

That explains the outcry when U.S. land managers round up mustangs. That’s one “rodeo” not everyone agrees about.

This past winter, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planned to gather more than 2,800 wild horses across four Nevada counties. Why? The population has gotten out of control. The area has more than six times as many horses as the land can support.

The horses that are rounded up will be checked by a veterinarian and readied for the agency’s placement and sale program.

Critics fear animals getting injured during roundups. But a federal judge determined the BLM appeared to be gathering the wild horses as humanely as possible. The bureau has removed nearly 70,000 wild horses since 2018.

Why? Though bull riding has a long history, serious consideration must be taken before participating in such a dangerous sport.

For more about the history of cowboys and cowgirls, see In the Days of the Vaqueros by Russell Freedman in our Recommended Reading. 

Test my knowledge