The quiet community of Scopus, Mo., is home to one of the region's top teenage rodeo stars.
Ashley Welker, 16, is a life-long resident of Scopus, where she's been home-schooled since first grade. Her three horses share the grounds in the small Bollinger County town.
"I've been around the ranch since I was a little kid," Welker says, "just taking care of my horses and making sure they had the best care."
It wasn't until last year that she gained approval from her parents to start competing in rodeo events. The approval is beginning to pay off -- she won a rookie-of-the-year award in goat-tying competition last year.
"I have always had a thing for it," she says.
The tradition runs through town and family.
"A lot of my family has been around horses their whole life," Welker says. "I think everyone in this town does, too."
She began learning and maturing on the ranch with her dad, who taught her everything she knows about the ranch, the horses and the competition.
"Ever since I was a little girl, my dad and I have gone to the rodeo. He taught me so much," she says. "I've always been around horses, and eventually it just came to me."
It came quickly, and now Welker continues to work on perfecting her barrel racing, pole racing and goat tying. Barrel racing and pole racing are timed events.
In barrel racing, the horse is ridden around three barrels, usually placed 90 feet apart in a triangular shape. Welker's best time is 17.56 seconds.
"That's good for an average person just doing it for fun," she says. "It depends on the horse and how much money is put into it. Some of the expensive horses run in the 14s."
Pole racing consists of six poles 21 feet apart. The horse runs from one end of the poles to the next, circles the last pole and zigzags back through the poles, then does the same on the way back to the finish.
Competing against 100 to 200 other people, Welker says practice is a must. She practices a couple of times a week with her horse, Cowboy Stomper, at Flickerwood Arena in Jackson. When she doesn't have the time to get there, she practices at the family ranch.
"I do it for fun but also for competition," she says. "You get that adrenaline rush right before you go out there when the horse is kicking."
Welker would like to attend Murray State and become a veterinarian. If that plan falls through, she is secure with her own Plan B, which is to attend a school in Wyoming and keep riding horses.
Her next event is Feb. 8 at Flickerwood Arena.
-- David Unterreiner