Last year at this time, Payson’s Amanda Butler was wrapping up a high school rodeo officer campaign and gunning for her first state title.
It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
“I didn’t think I would do as well as I did,” Butler said Wednesday at the first day of the 2019 Utah High School Rodeo Finals at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds in Heber City. “It’s pretty hard.”
Butler — who competes for the South Utah County rodeo club — started by winning the 2018 barrel-racing state title in June, then went on to take on the best high school cowgirls in the country at the national rodeo finals in July.
“Nationals went great,” Butler said. “After the first round at nationals, I didn’t think it was going to do awesome because it wasn’t that great of a run but then I pulled it together and ended up getting the title as the national champion barrel racer.”
She said that even now she still feels like it’s hard to believe it really happened.
“It was unreal,” Butler said. “After I finished running, they wouldn’t even let me take my horse back to the stall. I had to stay there. They basically ripped me off my horse and took me to take pictures because I had won. It’s still unreal to me.”
Since that was her junior season, the Payson cowgirl knew she had set the bar high for herself as she came back for her final season of high school rodeo.
“I don’t think you can top that, honestly,” Butler said. “I’ve definitely come a long way. It takes a lot of dedication.”
She explained that since her family has an outdoor arena, she can’t practice during the winter months.
“I have to haul to an indoor arena and sometimes it’s hard to get in because it is rented,” Butler said. “I just have to haul whenever I can.”
The work — and having a dynamic 10-year-old horse named Tic — has paid off for Butler during the 2019 season.
She entered the finals leading the state in barrel racing and won the event in Wednesday’s first performance in a time of 16.513. The rodeo announcer introduced her as the “best barrel racer in the world” before she made her run.
“I’ve learned that whatever happens, happens,” Butler said. “I always say that it’s the same three barrels in the arena, so it should be the same run every time.”
She is looking to make another push this week toward a barrel-racing title while also competing in the girls cow cutting and the breakaway roping.
But Butler isn’t just another participant at the high school rodeo finals. She is also the 2018-19 Utah High School Rodeo Association student president.
“It’s been difficult sometimes because there are a lot of things to do,” Butler said. “But it has benefits as well. I get scholarships and I learn leadership skills, so it’s been good. It’s really cool to learn about the sport of rodeo. I don’t compete in roughstock but I learn about it by being president.”
She explained that part of her responsibilities are selecting prizes at the state finals, planning the rodeo schedule and planning other activities.
“It’s really satisfying,” Butler said. “We are also doing a service project for mental health awareness. On Thursday we are making glitter bottles to help people with stress and anxiety. The plan is to make 150 of them and donate them to Wasatch Mental Health.”
She is also the event director for the barrel racing, a task she had to hand to someone else on Wednesday because she was busy riding in the event.
Butler doesn’t always like all of the demands but said there has been a benefit on the competition side.
“It makes it so I don’t have time to worry about competing,” Butler said. “I think a lot of that helps me. If I have too much time, I get caught up in the stress of competing and don’t perform as well. Keeping busy helps me out.”
Butler recently graduated from Payson High School and is getting ready to continue her rodeo career at UVU.
Right now, however, she is focused on her last high school rodeo finals.
“I’m just shooting to have solid runs,” Butler said. “I’m not necessarily going out to win. It would be very nice, but I just want to be solid and consistent to make it to nationals again for my last year.”