HOPE, Ind. — The day Mike Hasler signed a contract to build a rodeo barn on his property, he and his wife Dena found out they were having their second child.

Not long after that, their children Grace and Mel Hasler began showing horses. That evolved into rodeo, and now they are among the sport’s top girls in the country.

This week, Grace and Mel Hasler are to compete in their seventh National High School Finals Rodeo. The competition ends Sunday in Gillette, Wyoming.

“We started out just for fun,” said Grace, who will be a senior at Hauser. “She had a little pony, and I had a little pony, and dad would lead us around the barrels, lead us around the poles, lead us into the arena so we could jump off and rip the ribbon off a goat’s tail. We honestly didn’t start practicing until we realized that we could be good at rodeo, and that it wasn’t just a way to have fun.”

Their mother grew up just down the road from their current home and showed horses and did barrel racing and pole bending at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair. Dena’s father Dick Wetzel is a horse trader and ran the saddle barn at the state fair.

The Haslers have run horsemanship Day Camp programs during the summer since the late 1990s. They have been heavily involved in 4-H, but kids can’t get involved showing horses until they’re in third grade.

But when Grace and Mel were small, Mike and Dena heard about the Southern Indiana Junior Rodeo Association. They learned that it had a preschool program, and kids could start the year before they went into kindergarten.

Grace began going to the junior high nationals the summer after her fifth-grade year. She finished third in a round in team roping in junior high one year.

Mel, who is three years and two grade levels younger the Grace, knew from watching her that she wanted to compete, as well.

“When Grace started taking it seriously, I kind of started taking it seriously,” Mel said. “When Grace was sixth and seventh grades, I got to go out there with her and watch what she got to do and see all the competition, and just seeing that, I was like, ‘Wow, I should probably get a jump on this. This might be fun'”

Grace has qualified for the national competition in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying and team roping. Mel made it in goat tying, breakaway roping and team roping.

Sunday through Wednesday morning will be the “First Go,” for each event, and Wednesday evening through the morning of July 22 is the “Second Go.” The top 20 average times in each event come back that night for the “Short Go,” or finals.

Grace made the Short Go and finished 18th in pole bending last year. She also was 13th in the first round in goat tying and ended up 24th in barrel racing.

Mel is hoping for a breakthrough this year.

“I’ve never done well at nationals because I always get super nervous, and then I always kind of don’t do my best,” Mel said. “Last year, I had some pretty decent breakaway runs, but I didn’t place very well.”

Mel said she has focused more on holding national offices. She was junior high secretary two years ago and president last year and plans to run for high school president next year.

Grace was secretary and vice president in junior high and now is the high school secretary.

Both girls play play basketball and compete in track at Hauser. Grace has been a starter in basketball for all or part of her first three years and has narrowly missed qualifying for the state track meet in the 300-meter hurdles each of the past two seasons.

Grace, however, might have a shot at landing a rodeo scholarship. But she wants to stay close to home, and the closest college with a rodeo program is Tennessee-Martin.

“I’ve thought about it,” Grace said. “I really want to go to Purdue, but if I were able to get a scholarship somewhere pretty close, I might go.”

Both girls said they are most looking forward to the team roping competition, which they do together. Grace catches the head of the steer, and Mel comes around and catches the feet.

In team roping, boys and girls compete in the same category. Only the top four qualified from state to nationals, and the Haslers moved from eighth to fourth after catching their final three steers.

“It’s really fun to be able to rope with Mel because we get along pretty well for the most part,” Grace said. “I think the fact that we’re girls made it that much better because it’s kind of a boys’ event.”

Source: The (Columbus) Republic, http://bit.ly/2tnjrKE

Information from: The Republic, http://www.therepublic.com/

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Columbus) Republic