GONZALES— Roughly 400 high school and middle school students from across Louisiana gathered at the Southeast Louisiana High School Rodeo for a weekend of roping and riding.

Amongst the western apparel vendors, countless cowboy hats and smells of fresh tilled dirt and livestock, several Ascension Parish students rode to represent their schools during competition at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Kassie deVeer, 15, a ninth grader at Dutchtown High School, said she got involved with rodeo after watching her dad take part in the sport.

DeVeer competed in three events Sunday, barrels, goat-tying and roping. She had a different horse for each one.

“I have Smack for roping, Jack for barrels and Molly for goats,” deVeer said. “I don’t really have a favorite though. They are all calm and run fast.”

St. Amant High School was represented well, with multiple competitors, including sisters Shannon and Haylie Heath.

Shannon, 17, a senior at St. Amant High, competed in barrels and poles Saturday evening.

She said she fell in love with rodeo and riding horses at a young age.

“As soon as I could stand up, I was on a horse,” Shannon said.

When asked about her most memorable rodeo experience she said it was her first rodeo in New Roads as a sixth grader.

“I fell in both my events,” she said. “Everybody knew me after that.”

Shannon said she’s made much improvement since then partially because of her horse, Lucky.

“He’s made me a better rider,” Shannon said.

Shannon’s sister, Haylie, 17, an 11th-grader at St. Amant High, also competed in barrel racing and pole bending, with her horse, Beriah.

“Beriah has a mind of her own,” Haylie said. “She has a dumb blonde personality, but a big heart.”

Haylie fell in love with horses the same way her sister did, after growing up having them at home.

“My favorite moment is coming out into the arena,” Haylie said. “The adrenaline is pumping, and it’s like there is nothing but the arena.”

Rodeo isn’t always fun and games however, for Dylan Tucker, 17, a senior at St. Amant High and a bull rider. It’s caused some serious pain.

“Last year, at this very event, I got thrown from my bull and it stepped, with all its weight, on my neck,” Tucker said. “I thought it broke my neck, but luckily it didn’t.

I got up and ran to the alley way and saw the paramedics running toward me, but I was stubborn and threw my helmet at them and told them to go away,” he said.

Tucker said he has also suffered several other injuries _ including two dislocated kneecaps, a collapsed lung and fractured ribs, to name a few.

But even after all his injuries, Tucker is determined to keep on riding.

“I love it. I’m getting my pro card as soon as I graduate high school,” Tucker said.

Last weekend’s competition, one of 17 rodeos held by the Louisiana High School Rodeo Association, allowed young riders to showcase their talents in multiple events and increase their position, to attempt to qualify for state and potentially, national competitions, said Andree’ Guillory, Southeast Louisiana High School Rodeo Association club president, said.

The weekend rodeo was sponsored and organized by the Southeast Louisiana High School Rodeo Association.

“My favorite part of the rodeo is watching the kids practice so hard and then come out here and succeed,” Guillory said Sunday. “This rodeo in Gonzales has been held annually for about 20 years now, and we had one of our best turnouts last night for the start of the high school events.”

Ascension Parish cowgirl Madison Guillory finished the wrangler division in fourth place in the ribbon roping event.

In the high school division, finishing in the 10 top ten in their events were Jada Moran, 10th place, barrel racing; and Elise Guillory, seventh, breakaway roping and fourth, goat tying.