Ten-year-old Aiden Lane Treetop is headed to Las Vegas, where he’ll be the youngest enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to ever compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which kicks off Thursday.
A resident of Fort Yates, the Lakota cowboy advanced to the Junior NFR after securing first place in saddle bronc riding, ages 9 to 11, at the High Plains Youth Rodeo Circuit Finals, Fort Pierre, S.D., in September.
Aiden, who has never been to Vegas — for business or pleasure, says he’s excited for the competition.
“I’m going to bring that gold buckle back,” he said.
The fourth-grader credits his sister, Mercedes, for spurring his interest in rodeo, which entered his blood about seven years ago. He says she passed her love of horses — and being around them — on to him.
A bull- and bareback bronc rider, Aiden’s only been riding saddle bronc since June. He’s competed in numerous rodeos throughout the year, testing his skills in all three events.
While he did not succeed in covering his two bulls, Aiden said competing in the International Miniature Bullrider’s Association World Finals, Guthrie, Okla., in September was a highlight.
“He made some new friends, and it was a heck of an experience for him,” said Ardis Dog Skin, Aiden’s grandmother.
The young athlete qualified to compete in bareback, as well, at the High Plains Youth Rodeo Circuit Finals but, due to lack of funds, only participated in saddle bronc. The latter was his ticket to the Junior NFR.
Aiden’s family, friends, school and community are stepping up in full force to make sure his $4,000 trip to Vegas, in which he will be accompanied by a few family members, is covered.
“I’m happy with all the support I’m getting from the community,” Aiden said.
Since February, more than 7,000 entrants from 38 states and four countries have attempted to qualify for the Junior NFR, which runs concurrently with the National Finals Rodeo.
About 700 of these athletes made the cut and will compete for gold buckles in eight events, each with varying age groups.
Saddle bronc riders will begin battling it out Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with competitions each day leading up to Monday’s final.
Dog Skin says her grandson, who recently received his Lakota name — Wanbli A’na’ta’pi Hoksila — which loosely translated means “eagles watch over him boy,” has a “good chance” of winning that gold buckle.
“To make it to the NFR is a pretty amazing accomplishment. I’m happy he made it,” she said. “Anything he does down there is a bonus.”
She went on to say that Aiden is a “great kid,” overall.
“He does good in school, he’s active in sports and the community and he’s a hard worker,” she said. “He has good manners and is very helpful to anyone who needs help.”