Maude Henenberg sometimes has trouble describing exactly what runs through her mind as her horse, Judy, runs through a pole bending event.
To be fair, it’s not like it takes her very long.
Henenberg won the event at the Missouri High School Rodeo Association’s Oct. 6, 2019, Osceola Rodeo in just 22.016 seconds.
“I’ve been doing it for a while, so I guess over the years it’s kind of changed,” Henenberg said. “It's just a thrill, like a rush. It’s a short second. Sometimes when you’re running, it feels like it takes forever. Sometimes it's just like, ‘Oh that just happened.’”
And, after consistently placing among the top five in the event at MHSR rodeos throughout the 2019-20 season, Henenberg was crowned pole bending state champion, securing her third consecutive trip to the high school national championships.
She’ll compete July 17-23, at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
The rodeo event has been the graduating Bolivar High School senior’s specialty for about seven years.
She said she first competed in junior high school rodeo aboard Judy.
“I actually made it to nationals in seventh and eighth grades,” she said. “Then, when I got into high school, it got tougher.”
But, Henenberg pointed out, she’s had Judy by her side the whole time.
“I’ve been on Judy since I was 6 years old,” Henenberg said, “so we’ve kind of grown up together. Me and Judy have a friendship. It’s kind of like we just know each other. If someone else were to ride her they probably wouldn’t do as good as I would, just because I know her and I can feel what I need to do.”
That’s one of the most critical elements of a good pole bending run, Henenberg said.
“Pole bending is about that relationship between you and horse,” she said.
And, the relationship between Maude and Judy has been longstanding.
“I did mutton busting as a kid, and my brother and sister and I shared a horse so I could compete in tail tying,” she said. “Not too long after that, I got Judy.”
At first, pole bending with Judy was a challenge, Henenberg said.
“We just couldn't figure it out so it, so wasn't always my favorite thing,” she said. “It came around, and ever since then it's been our thing.”
Henenberg said she’s also spent time working on her roping skills, but it hasn’t been her priority.
She steadily climbed the results board at high school rodeo breakaway roping events this season but didn’t qualify for nationals.
It’s something she said she plans to continue to hone after high school.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I enjoy it. But I am newer to it, so I struggle with it sometimes and sometimes I just want to quit, but I feel like I’m close to an improvement.”
And, Henenberg said, she keeps a similarly optimistic but understanding attitude about her trips to nationals.
“It's fun to go to nationals, but I know that Judy doesn't have the horsepower to compete with the top horses,” she said. “For me, it’s about just getting to go with her. It’s about the experience.”