Sixteen-year-old Avery Wilburn from Red Banks, Miss., is no stranger to the National Little Britches Rodeo Association (NLBRA) circuit. Riding ever since she can remember and entering the rodeo world at just eight years old was a natural progression for Avery.
Competing in the rodeo events, barrel racing, pole bending, and roping, this competitive young rider has been across the nation with her horses, Fly and Juice, posting some impressive times and making a name for herself.
Avery’s passion for rodeo is seen through her commitment to the sport. “I love rodeo. My favorite thing about riding is overcoming obstacles on different horses. Rodeo and horses have shown me satisfaction of working through situations and sometimes problem solving of all kinds with my equine partners,” she states. Being on the road and rodeoing with her family are other aspects of rodeo life that appeal to Avery. “I enjoy traveling with the horses and getting to meet new people from all over the nation and seeing the country while I am competing,” Avery explains. She also enjoys getting to compete with her sister, HK, who will be a freshman this year.
When asked who has helped her get where she is today on her rodeo journey, Avery credits her parents (Dustin and Kristen Wilburn), her sister (HK), her trainers (Kindyl Scruggs and Zach Hall), and her vet (Dr. Mark Akin). “My parents are always in my corner and haul my sister and me to rodeos all over the country. My dad helps us practice and is always there to do whatever we need, from our horses to keeping our arena at the house ready to ride in,” she elaborates. “I am thankful for our vet, Dr. Mark Akin, who keeps my horses feeling great. He cares about every horse and helps them to perform at their best,” Avery continues.
Of course, her trainers play an influential role in Avery’s competitive rodeo life as well. “I train for barrels with Kindyl Scruggs. She has been my mentor and coach for a long time. Kindyl always pushes me to be better and helps to keep my horses ready at all times. She is a sounding board for me at practice and during competitions,” Avery says. “I take roping lessons from Zach Hall in Lexington, TN. He helps me with my roping and roping horses. I am very thankful to have their help and would not be where I am today without them,” she credits. Her gratitude toward everyone who helps along the way is evident: “I truly appreciate everyone that helps me; rodeo takes a village, and I am blessed by mine,” Avery states.
Although not human, there are two other very important guys in Avery’s life, without whom rodeo would not be possible at all- her horses. “My barrel horse, He Be Flyin’, “Fly,” is 14 years old and has the biggest heart of any horse that I have ever had the pleasure to ride. He is over seventeen hands and is quick as he is large. Fly and I have won several barrel races and rodeos together, and I am grateful for every run that he gives me,” Avery says. Helping her to qualify for big name rodeos, such as the Vegas Tuffest and Hooey Jr. Patriot, she continues on about Fly, “ He has taught me to ‘leave it all in the arena’ every single time we run. He has helped me to achieve so many goals, and I am forever grateful for all of his [effort] and the way that he pushes me to be better.”
Juice, her roping horse, is 17 but doesn’t know that according to Avery. “Everytime he backs in the box he is ready to work. He is honest and fast, and I am thankful to have him on my team. We qualified together for the NLBRA finals and the NHSRA High School finals in Gillette, Wyoming, this summer,” she states.
Going up against some of the best youth barrel racers in the nation to recently win the Short Go Barrels at the NLBRA Finals in Guthrie, OK, is just one of this young rider’s many accomplishments. Avery has qualified for some of the top youth rodeos in the country and considers it a privilege to compete against other elite rodeo athletes. This year, she and Fly were third in the world in barrel racing.
As for this ambitious young rider, Avery has goals, both short and long-term: “My short term goal is to do well in Vegas this year and in Fort Worth at the Jr. American. In five years, I hope to be finishing up college and pursuing my goals in rodeo. I am interested in a career in the equine sports medicine field in some capacity.”
When asked what important life lessons she’s learned along the way, Avery says, “Rodeo teaches me lessons every day, whether it is during practice or during competition. I have learned to be patient, enjoy the high points, and learn from the low points. It is not always easy, but it is always worth it. I am very thankful to be able to live the lifestyle that I do with my horses, and I give all glory to God. It is a lot of work everyday, but it is so rewarding when you see the fruits of your labor pay off.”