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The Elks’ Unocal Event Center was packed Thursday morning.

A full house on hand for the annual Minetti Mini Rodeo.

This rodeo by the children, for the children, with junior rodeo cowgirls and cowboys competing for championship buckles in breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing.

And Cal Poly rodeo was in the arena, putting on rough stock demonstrations in saddle bronc and bull riding.

The young competitors each earned their spots in the Minetti Mini Rodeo at the Mini Rodeo qualifier on Sunday, April 14.

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Ethan Usher, of Santa Ynez, rides a saddle bronc at the Santa Maria Elks Minetti Mini Rodeo on Thursday morning.

The top five in each event were invited back Thursday for their championship runs.

First out the gates were the breakaway ropers.

The 13- to 17-year-old ropers took the first shot in the spotlight.

Sammy Massey, from Templeton High School, was second after qualifying but her 4.54-second run vaulted her to the championship.

Righetti High’s Regan Fowler, Clarence Minetti’s great granddaughter, had a 4.75-second run that jumped her all the way up from fifth to second place. Fowler was followed by Sophia Patino (Righetti), Delaney Browder (SLO High) and Gracie Lopez (Santa Ynez High).

In the 12-and-under breakaway, Blochman Elementary’s Sadie Grant improved from third place to the championship with a 17.03-second run. Grant was followed by Cade Branquinho (Los Olivos Elementary), Kylee Branquinho (Los Olivos Elementary) and Addie Shelly (Solvang School).

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Sadie Grant, of Blochman Elementary School, rides in the barrel racing competition at the Santa Maria Elks Minetti Mini Rodeo on Thursday morning.

Junior team roping was next into the arena with five of the eight finalists hailing from Templeton High.

Header Josie Pereira (Family Partnership School) and heeler Ashley Lewis (Templeton High) had the morning’s only qualifying run, at 15.06 seconds, to win the champions’ buckles.

Santa Ynez High’s Enrique Ramirez and Foothill Tech’s Nicholas Realzola finished second followed by Dylan Fleming (St. Patrick High) and Lacey Lewis (Templeton), Lewis and Blayne Twisselman (both Templeton) and Massey and Realzola.

The youth cowgirls and cowboys got to take a break as head coach Ben Londo’s Cal Poly cowboys demonstrated bull and saddle bronc riding.

And the lone saddle bronc rider was a familiar face and local favorite — Santa Ynez High graduate Ethan Usher.

Usher was a regular at the Minetti Mini Rodeo but the 2018 Mini was the last time he was eligible for Minetti championships.

Now a freshman on the Cal Poly team, it was his first chance to ride a bucking bronco before a live crowd.

“I’ve mainly been a steer wrestler so this is my first time riding a bucking bronc in a rodeo,” said Usher “It’s always great to be out here at the Elks Rodeo.”

Unfortunately, Usher’s stay at the Mini was short lived. He hit the dirt (head groundskeeper Joey “Joe Dirt” Silva’s award-winning arena dirt) before the eight-second horn went off.

Poly’s bull riders didn’t fare any better — they showed just how rough rough-stock riding can be.

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McCoy Draper, of Dorothea Lange Elementary School, rides in the barrel racing competition at the Santa Maria Elks Minetti Mini Rodeo on Thursday morning.

Paul Vos, Jake Fellom and Arroyo Grande’s Cole Tart were each introduced to Silva’s masterpiece just seconds into their rides.

The one bull rider who brought the crowd to its feet was Kipton Oliveira.

The Atascadero cowboy posted a 92-point ride.

And Oliveira is just 9 years old.

He rides mini-bulls and has already qualified for the World Bull Riding Finals in Abilene, Texas, and the IMBA Finals in Las Vegas.

Then it was back to the Minetti competition with barrel racing in the arena for the final go-round.

Up first were the 6-and-under riders where McCoy Draper (Dorothea Lange Elementary) took home the championship buckle after a 22.51-second race. Robby Alexander (Solvang Elementary), Oakley Ganibi (home schooled) and Chet Chaves (Little Pumpkins Preschool) followed.

Joseph Gamble (Pacific Christian) rode off with the 7-9 title followed by Jameson Branquinho (Los Olivos Elementary), Lillian Stone (St. Rose), Jaycee Chaves (Blochman) and Charlee Teixeira (Dorothea Lange).

“It feels good to win,” said Gamble. “I was scared because I was going so fast but it was still a lot of fun.”

Gamble will be back for the Elks team roping where he’ll team up with his grandfather, Poppa John Rivas.

Sadie Grant won her second buckle, topping the field in the 10-13 barrels ahead of Alexius Jones (Blochman), Kennedi Gamble (Orcutt Junior High), Teagan Ross (Nipomo Elementary) and Shaylee Baxley.

“In the breakaway, I just ran up there and caught my calf,” said Grant. “I just went as fast as I could in the barrel race. It feels good to win and I had a lot of fun.”

Makenna Machado had an adventure in her championship ride in 14-17 barrels.

Machado hit the second barrel, tipping it up in the air. It balanced on one edge, seemingly forever, before falling back into place which meant Machado’s 17.12-second run was good for the title.

“I knew I hit it and it was still standing when I got by,” said Machado. “I snuck a look back at the barrel and saw it stayed up. I was happy about that. I get to go back to school next week as a Minetti Mini Rodeo champion.”

Actually, a two-time champion since Machado won the same event last year.

Machado was followed by Karli Huguenard (Righetti), Haliegh Grant (Blochman), Pereira and Massey.

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