School’s out for summer, but 13-year-old Mia Bernardi is busier than ever.
Bernardi, a student at Clark Intermediate School in Clovis, is currently competing in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo tournament in Tennessee. The event brings together more than 1,000 competitors from 43 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia, making it the world’s largest junior high rodeo competition.
To qualify for the nationals, Bernardi first won the ribbon roping competition in her district (which includes from Bakersfield to Merced). She then took second in the state finals in ribbon roping, finishing just .02 behind first place.
Bernardi now represents California in the national competition in Lebanon, Tennessee with her partner Nolan Scott from Lindsay.
“She’s always busy. She’s not just sitting around,” said Mia’s mother, Jody Bernardi. “She’s always saddling and unsaddling and getting into the arena.”
Following her mother’s footsteps, Mia Bernardi fell in love with the rodeo at the age of 6.
“I’m there with her every step of the way,” Jody Bernardi said. “I did it and now I’m watching her do it.”
Although Jody Bernardi has plenty of helpful tips for her daughter, she said it’s never easy watching Mia as she competes.
“It’s nerve racking because I sit there and I have to watch it. I just want to go out there and do it for her. But you can’t,” she said. “You just have to sit there and just bite your nails and hope for the best.”
Mia said she had some scary moments from riding, but she gets fired up from the adrenaline rush.
“I’ve had my partner’s horse run over me and drag me down the arena,” she said. “You don’t really have a lot of time to think about it because you just get pushed in the gate. You’re in there and you just have to push through it. There is no dealing with the pressure. It goes so fast. You don’t even know it’s happening.”
Jody Bernardi had competed in various events during her time in the rodeo. The one event she didn’t do was ribbon roping. Still, she wanted her daughter to try ribbon roping.
“She entered me in ribbon roping last year, not knowing what the event was,” Mia Bernardi said. “I just got word from my friends about what it was, so I that I actually knew what to do.”
Because the NJHFR requires at least a GPA of 2.0 to compete in tournaments, Mia has to always make sure she balances her school work with training.
“She is a good kid. She keeps a good GPA,” Jody Bernardi said. “Her goal is to go to Cal Poly with a scholarship.”
Mia said it’s always a big advantage when her teachers cooperate with her rodeo schedule.
“I had a really awesome teacher who helped me get through it this year,” Mia said. “She would give me extensions when she knew I was at a rodeo, good things like that.”
While Mia goes onto high school next year, Jody Bernardi’s youngest daughter will be in middle school. Both girls have impressed their family with dedication in the arena.
“Most kids just go to school and come home,” Jody Bernardi said. “Our kids feed horses, they do their practicing, saddle and unsaddle. That’s a workout.”