It all began with 3-year-old Zaly Miguel riding the family puppy, then the dog, then the goat and then sheep, explained her mother Sara Badon.
“She just started hanging on them, loving them up, hugging them up and wanting to ride them,” Badon said about her daughter’s natural take to mutton busting, more commonly known as sheep riding. “When she was supposed to be feeding them, I’d catch her always riding them.”
Now, 6 years old, the petite Honokaa youngster, whom her mother described simply as “one of those outdoors kids,” has no trouble hanging on to a sheep as it flies through the rodeo arena.
“It’s the most fun thing in the world,” Zaly said. “You gotta use your legs; squeeze ‘em and hold on to ‘em real good.”
Though less than 4-feet-tall and weighing about 35 pounds “soaking wet,” Zaly has earned several awards for her sheep riding in Big Island rodeos. That includes a first-place win at the Honokaa Saddle Club Memorial Day Weekend Rodeo this May that helped earn her a spot in a national competition.
Just hours after the wee mutton buster competes in the Oct. 6 Hawaii High School Rodeo Association’s Keiki Division in Waimea, the family will head to Fresno, Calif. There, Zaly will compete in the weeklong Wool Riders Only World Finals Competition, a Professional Bull Riding-affiliated event, at the Big Fresno Fair where she could net the top prize of $10,000.
Badon estimates the trip will cost about $8,000, including food, lodging, transportation, entry fees and other necessities. The community has already banded together, helping round up the money via fundraisers and contributions, including airfare covered by two Waimea residents — a soldier who recently returned from Iraq and his wife.
We want to “thank everyone for all their support during our fundraising,” she said. “The biggest thank you.”
The Honokaa Elementary School first-grader said Friday that she is excited to go to the mainland as the lone sheep rider representing Hawaii. She will also be getting a new pair of boots in Fresno, having just recently outgrown her current pair.
“I’m going to ride the sheep and go on the Ferris wheel,” Zaly said of her plans. “And win.”
While Zaly may have taken naturally to the animals, her skills go blood deep, Badon said.
Her father, David Miguel, used to ride bulls and his father rode bucking horses while Badon’s side of the family, both maternal and paternal, comes from a long line of local ranchers and pig farmers.
“It’s in the family,” she summarized.
The youngster’s backyard also abuts Honokaa Arena and her home displays photos of family members, including dad, competing in rodeos — other reasons Badon believes Zaly is drawn to rodeo.
“She eats, sleeps and lives animals and riding sheep,” Badon said. “In her sleep she’s talking like she’s outside and says ‘Boys, I’m ready, I’m ready,’ with her arm out doing the motion with her arm to open the chute.”
Though a dangerous sport, Badon said seeing her daughter’s sheer enjoyment while riding is worth the anxiety she sometimes feels when Zaly takes to the arena.
“It’s rodeo, it’s not are you going to get it hurt, it’s when are you going to get hurt,” she said. “I’m nervous as heck, happy as heck and so happy that she is doing what she loves to do.
“From the minute she wakes that morning and she knows she going to ride, she’s just the happiest kid ever and from the time she gets on (the sheep), to the time she gets off, she has a smile from ear to ear.”
After the Fresno competition, Zaly said she hopes to take her riding to the next level. Recently, she’s been busting the backs of calves and steers with the help of her father and uncle, Tyrus Higa.
“Her thing now is she’s going to ride bulls when she gets big,” said Badon.
A fact Zaly confirmed.
“I want to do bucking bulls,” she said, “when I get a little bit older.”
But, even when she’s old enough, there will be a minor condition attached, Badon added.
“My mom has always said when Zaly starts to ride bulls and they have horns, she is going to sew quilts to put on the horns.”