Pa. Girl Becomes Cowgirl at National Rodeo

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    With three riding horses to care for at her 14-acre Hereford Township residence, Danielle Casilio would be considered by most measures to be a country girl through and through.

    But compared with the genuine cowgirls she met recently while out West for a rodeo competition, she felt more like a girl from the big city.

    Casilio, 17, traveled with her dad, Cory, and her roping horse, Jake, to Rock Springs, Wyo., to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals, which were held for six consecutive days culminating in the final round July 20.

    The NHSFR website describes it as the ``World's Largest Rodeo,'' featuring about 1,500 contestants from across the U.S., Canada and Australia for its two premiere events _ the National Junior High Finals Rodeo and the National High School Finals Rodeo.

    Casilio secured a spot in the high school finals after finishing in the top four of the breakaway calf-roping division of the Pennsylvania High School Rodeo Association.

    "It's a big accomplishment,'' she said during a phone interview between rounds. ``It's just a lot of hard work that paid off, and I'm really happy to be here.

    "To be competing out here with them is really something to be proud of. These kids having been riding, ranching, roping they live on working ranches and that's a lifestyle to them. To us (back East) it's really just a hobby.''

    Casilio started riding a pony on a friend's farm when she was 4 years old.

    At 5, her father asked her if she wanted to do soccer camp. She told him she'd rather go to horse-riding camp, and that's when her love for riding deepened.

    "After that I took lessons every week and it just escalated from there,'' Casilio said.

    She went to her first rodeo at age 10 but didn't compete until her freshman year.

    I had been barrel-racing a couple of years before that and decided I wanted to do more than barrel racing,'' said Casilio of the timed event on a course that winds between three barrels.

    Casilio, a junior in the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, competed in her first round of the breakaway roping event in Wyoming and failed to rope the cow or reach the top 20.

    "The calves out here are really, really fast,'' she said. ``It's just a little different setup. I got a little outran. The cow got too much in front of me and the rope hit her in the back of her neck.''

    She did better in the second round, roping the calf. But her combined scores between the two rounds did not make the cut.

    Casilio wasn't too disappointed. She had an incredible experience, rising every day at 5 a.m., working with her horse in the practice pen and watching the rodeo with her fellow Pennsylvanians.

    To top it off, there was a dance every night.

    "It's just a really great atmosphere,'' she said.