After finishing in a tie for sixth place in the first round of the girls cutting competition at the Texas High School Rodeo Association State Finals Rodeo in Abilene last month, Sealy’s Samantha Perko realized a second trip to the national stage was in reach.
“I was shocked. I went up to my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I split six in the first round. This is actually something I could do,’” Perko recounted in a July 6 phone interview. “I was just going out there to lay out a great run and kind of hope for the best, let God take care of what he needs to and let everything fall into place.”
It was a third-place finish in her second round for a score of 147 and 6.5 points – as well as a score of 145 in the short go – that secured Perko’s spot in the top four competitors across the state of Texas by a 0.5 margin in the score category.
Next weekend’s trip will be the second to the national finals rodeo after Perko earned 32nd overall in the breakaway roping competition at the 2018 National Junior High Finals Rodeo thanks to a second-run time of 2.79 seconds which had her fourth overall in the go.
This time, the trip to nationals won’t only look different because of the coronavirus pandemic but it will also be a step up in difficulty to the high school ranks. Despite that, Perko, a rising junior at Bellville’s Providence Preparatory High School, said her confidence remains in the relationship with her horse, Shadow, that they’ve developed over the last four years.
“She's like my heart, I love her,” Perko said. “Two years ago, we went through some challenges, she had surgery, so I had to stay off of her for most of my first year in high school. I had to borrow somebody's horse but through that we were able to bond, get to know each other more and I've gotten to know her as a horse. It took us a long time to bond but once we bonded, it's been incredible.”
Perko herself had surgery to remove an extra ligament in her knee on March 10 and it was scheduled to allow just enough time for her to be ready to compete at the state finals rodeo.
“I think it was (a Tuesday), the next week they cut off all surgeries,” Perko said. “I was in an immense amount of pain. I cried myself to sleep and I don't cry over pain. I was so lucky and so grateful that I was able to get in right before they cut off everything.”
Competitors from across the nation will converge on Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla., from July 17-23 but Perko and her Texas teammates will be looking for a fifth consecutive team title.
“Without pressure, can't make diamonds so it's our time to shine,” she said when asked if there was any added stress involved in extending a championship streak.
Perko will have a few familiar faces on the Texas squad including recent Bellville High School graduate Robbin Rice, whose family ranch Perko trains at, as well as Perko’s best friend Jayci Byler, a rising junior at Faith Academy of Bellville. Rice similarly qualified in the girls cutting competition while Byler will take part in pole bending.
A younger version of Samantha Perko would have simple advice for current-day Samantha Perko ahead of the national competition as only a sophomore in high school.
“I think she would just say go get it,” Perko said. “Be proud of where you are, don't think what if; just live in the moment and be grateful for where you are.”
Perko hopes the experiences she’s had will set her up for a spot in the Air Force Academy although the final destination after that journey is undetermined still.
“I either want to fly jets to the more aeronautical side or be a mechanical engineer or go into more national security; there's a lot of options that it would provide me,” Perko said. “I started looking at colleges and what would set me up for my career the best. My grandpa went to the Air Force and I feel the standards that it takes to get in and what a select few that they do take, that seems like something I wanted to do.”