Cousins Mackenzie Becnel and Gracie Sinanan are rodeo cowgirls, through and through.

While other teens their age may play basketball or softball, the cousins concentrate on rodeo as their sport.

"This is not like any other sport," said Mackenzie, 14, who attends Walker Freshman High. "We work with our horses in our sport ... it's just different but it's a sport nonetheless."

The girls said they train almost daily with their horses and practice skills needed to compete.

Gracie, 14, who attends River Parishes Community College as part of the early college option program and St. Amant High School, said the bond between rider and horse is an important part of most rodeo events.

Gracie and Mackenzie said rodeo riders have to build trust with their horses, a trust that grows over time.

The better the relationship between rider and horse, the better the chances the pair have of winning. And, the girls said, winning is a big part of the thrill of the sport.

The cousins, who compete in breakaway roping and goat-tying, said they don't mind competing against each other. They may laugh and joke before the rodeo, but when the announcer calls their events and they mount up, things get serious.

Mackenzie said she's made many friends competing on the rodeo circuit, but "when you're competing, you're for yourself ... no more friends."

The teens, along with their families, travel the country competing in rodeo events. Mackenzie's younger brother, Jeb, 6, and sister, Brooke, 10, also compete in rodeos.

Her dad, Joe Becnel, got her involved in rodeo.

The cousins recently competed in the Southeast Louisiana High School Rodeo at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. They're part of the Southeast Louisiana High School Rodeo Association, which hosted the rodeo.

The teens weren't the only locals to compete in the recent rodeo, which started March 3 with competition in the Southeast Louisiana Junior High School Rodeo.

Before the March 4 evening performance, many of the rodeo riders and ropers dined on jambalaya and other food in the hospitality suite set up by the association.

The youth talked about why they compete in rodeo and the commitment it takes to be successful.

Madison Guillory, 16, a student at East Ascension High School, said she wasn't really interested in competing in rodeos or working with horses, at first. 

She said she grew up with horses and saw her sister compete.

"My sister was into it, but for me, not so much ... but then I picked up a rope," she said. It wasn't long until she was competing in breakaway roping.

That decision has resulted in trips to state and national rodeo events. 

She competed in the Gonzales event with her sister's horse, Ringo, because her horse recently died. She missed the closeness she had with her horse, but is glad she has another horse to compete with. 

Sitting down the table from Madison, Kylie Cliburn, 12, said she also grew up around horses. Her dad rode bulls and mom rodeoed.

The Dutchtown Middle School student stays busy preparing for her events; she competes in barrel racing, pole bending, goat-tying and ribbon roping. She practices almost every day with her two horses, Mary and Yella. 

One of Kylie's classmates, Abby Lobell, 13, has been riding horses since she was 4. Kylie competes in breakaway roping.

As the girls joked around, they kept on eye on the time, making sure they were ready for the grand entry and their events.

One of the cowboy-hat wearing teens heading to the barns, Kaleb Babin, 14, isn't competing this year but likes to meet up with members of the association at rodeo events.

Kaleb has competed in rodeos for five years. His parents trained race horses and, like many of the kids at the table, grew up with horses at home.

"It's like a family," he said. "We're all friends; we're family."

Another competitor sitting out the rodeo season but joining with friends was Cole Decuir, 12, of St. Amant.

Cole, who attends The Church Academy, rides bulls but is taking a break. He, too, enjoys hanging out with her rodeo family.

Joining the bull riders was Trevor Hebert, 13, who attends Ascension Prep Academy. He's traveled to Las Vegas to compete nine times and hopes to return. He practices daily with bucking barrels.

As the teens walked to the barns to watch their friends mount up for the night's events, another bull rider, Cody Martinez, trotted up with friend Luke Thibodeaux riding on the back of the saddle.

Cody, 18, a senior at Dutchtown High, is ending his high school riding career. But he doesn't plan to stop riding bulls.

"Bull riding makes him happy," said his mom, Kristi Gueho. "This is his life."

Martinez and his family have traveled to Canada, the Bahamas, Wyoming, New Mexico and other states to compete in rodeos. He's qualified for the national rodeo six times and is hoping to make it this year.

As Martinez talked to his mom about the night's events, the other rodeo competitors wished each other good luck and walked off to saddle their horses.

Arriving later to the hospitality room was Cody Waguespack. The Ascension Catholic High School student, 16, walked up with his rope in his hand. He said he's never far from a rope.

He competes in tie-down roping and team roping. He still remembers the first rope he used — a "Junior MoneyMaker", when he was 7. Nothing is safe in his home since, as he said, he "ropes everything around, including my mom."

The youth were all competing in the hopes of making it to the state finals rodeo in May and nationals later this summer.