Lakin Cunningham, granddaughter of Glen Cunningham of Pratt, gets national acclaim for rodeo skills.
Lakin Cunningham is used to getting things done in a hurry. She has just become the Reserve Grand Champion in goat-tying at the Las Vegas Tuffest Junior World Championship. Her victory in the 15-and-under age-group came after 12 goat-tying runs in the three day event Dec. 7-9 earning her $9,000 in prizes and cash.
Cunningham's achievements are of particular interest to a Pratt resident. She is the granddaughter of Glen Cunningham of Pratt and the late Mary Beth Cunningham.
Cunningham, who is a junior in Louisburg High School, is also Kansas High School Rodeo Queen. As queen, she has learned leadership skills and gives her an opportunity to promote rodeo to students.
"As queen, I talked with thousands of kids," Cunningham said. "I talked with kids in the Kansas City Metro area, kids who don't know what rodeo is."
Cunningham has an ultimate goal of competing at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Her passion for rodeo started when she was very young and continues to be an important part of her life.
"I love rodeo. It gives me a competitive edge," Cunningham said. "It's more of an individual sport. It teaches you to be yourself with an animal."
Cunningham has been riding since she was 4-years-old. Her mother's side of the family raised and trained horses so she was born into the rodeo world. She went to her first rodeo at age 6. She competed in the American Royal for nine years, Christian Youth Rodeo Association, Kansas Junior High Rodeo Association, National Little Britches Rodeo Association and now the Kansas High School Rodeo Association, Cunningham said.
She started goat tying when she was 7 then decided she wanted to do barrels.
"I wanted to do it all. I was a love of mine from the start," Cunningham said.
Cunningham's grandmother Cindy Lowe taught her barrel racing. She trains with her mother Cara Cunningham and her aunts. She also trains with a goat tying trainer, Jacoby Hotsenpiller, and has learned a lot.
"She (Hotsenpiller) really boosted my career," Cunningham said.
She also learns as much as she can by picking up odds and ends from other competitors.
Both goat tying and barrel racing require the horse to go very fast. In goat tying, the competitor rides across the arena as fast as possible, jumps off the horse, puts the goat on the ground and ties its legs as fast as possible. It's the speed of the event that appeals to Cunningham.
"You have to really trust your horse when it's going that fast. It's an adrenaline rush. It's so much fun," Cunningham said.
At the Las Vegas event, she competed in both the 15 and Under and the 19 and under events because her birthday fell at just the right time to qualify her for both. There were 45 competitors in the 15 and under with 37 in the 19 and under age groups.
Her times in the two go rounds were 7.2 seconds for fifth and 7.5 seconds for first place. Her short go time was 7.1 seconds and second place. In the hot round, her time was 8.1 seconds for fifth. While they weren't the fastest, they did earn her enough money to capture the Reserve Grand Championship.
Cunningham said she didn't have a single perfect run. While others had faster times, she was consistent and pushed through her mistakes. The championship placements are based on cash won. She won the average but didn't get a good draw for the hot round (final round) where she placed eighth.
"Since I didn't draw the stock I wanted, I ended up in second place," Cunningham said.
Her total winnings were $9,500 while the girl that beat her in the hot round had $12,500 in winnings.
Going to competitions takes up a lot of Cunningham's time. She competes nearly every weekend in March through June, then in the summer and continues August through October. She typically makes all the national competitions. Most of the events are in Kansas. She competed at Rock Springs as a sophomore. She was All-Around Champion, state champion in barrels, reserve in goat tying, fourth in reining cow horse and is the current Kansas High School Rodeo Queen.
She lives not far from Missouri and takes in events there and some times competes in Oklahoma as well. She also competed in the Wyoming National Finals High School Rodeo where she was All-Around Champion and Champion Barrel racer.
All these championships require a lot of practice. She tries to practice very day or at least three times a week. In the winter time, she likes to give her horses a break and doesn't train as much. She competes with three horses. She runs barrels on her 8-year-old mare Precious and won the state barrels championship with her. Cunningham uses Easy, who is 10 and a brother to Precious, for goat tying while she uses Royal, who is 7, for her reining horse. Easy was a race horse so he is very fast.
Cunningham is expanding her skills and is currently learning breakaway roping. She taught herself to rope and is picking up the event quickly. She has attended clinics and hopes to enter a breakaway event this spring.
Cunningham spends a lot of time on the road and away from the classroom so she does blended learning, taking some classes at school and some classes online. This semester she is also taking three college classes online. She has missed about a month of school so far this year because of competitions.
When she graduates in 2021, she plans on attending Oklahoma State University and double majoring in Agriculture communication and agriculture business.
Cunningham was born in Pratt and lived there until she was 4-years-old. She currently lives in Louisburg with her mother Kara and her siblings 14-year-old Lane and 9-year-old Liberty.
Cunningham is the daughter of Todd Cunningham and Kara Cunningham. Her grandparents are Jim and Cindy Lowe.