At 6 years old, Hailee Westrick dreamed of having a pony. So, the Hollister native entered the goat-tying event at the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo, taking on other competitors her age on horseback.

“Once I really got into it, I made friends real quickly,” she said. “From there, it just kind of stuck.”

Stuck, indeed. Nearly 17 and heading into her senior year at San Benito High School, Westrick has been competing in the San Benito Rodeo every year for more than a decade, and will continue this year when the event returns this weekend.

“Being able to participate in a rodeo that represents my town is really nice,” she said. “Being part of that history is really cool.”

The 86th annual SBC Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo begins on Friday, June 28 at Bolado Park & Event Center at 9000 Airline Highway in Tres Pinos. The weekend will culminate on Sunday, June 30, with Stock Horse Class Eliminations at 8am, the Western Art & Tack Show at 11am and a show at 1:30pm. 

Westrick will be competing in ribbon roping, reined cow horse and stock horse at the rodeo. She is also proficient in other rodeo competitions, such as team roping, pole bending and breakaway roping, competing with three different horses.

She also recently competed in Bishop at the California High School Rodeo Association’s state finals.

“It’s a great experience to have that relationship with an animal that trusts you to ride them and teach them,” she said.

Westrick’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the judges. In 2018, she was named the Junior All Around Arena Champion at the San Benito Rodeo, an honor she has received multiple times in past years.

“It’s not only rewarding for me and my horses, but it lets me know that what I’m doing is obviously working,” she said.

Westrick’s father, Hollister Police Chief David Westrick, said his daughter trains almost daily on horseback.

“All the kids that compete at the level she competes at work very hard at it,” he said. “For our family it fits our lifestyle, we like to be outside and love all of our animals. I credit my wife with always keeping us focused and moving to all of the rodeo events we go to. Rodeo encourages integrity, fitness, compassion and a great work ethic. We would not trade it for anything.”

In between training, and sometimes even during, David Westrick said Hailee fits in her studying, as “school is very important to her.” Texas A&M University is among the colleges she is considering after high school, and plans on majoring in journalism.

“Many times at rodeos you can see her reading a book or studying while sitting on her horse,” David Westrick said. “She is actually kind of known for that.”

To kick things off for rodeo week, the Saddle Horse Parade marched down San Benito Street in Hollister on June 22, featuring more than 50 entries, including marching bands, scouts, long-horned cattle, floats, tractors and, of course, horsemen and horsewomen and other groups.

Bonnie Mansmith, the 2019 Miss San Benito Rodeo, also rode her horse in the parade. Mansmith, who competed in the queen contest on June 15, competed with Madeline Clarkson for the title. The two answered a series of questions on horsemanship, tack and equipment, and were expected to know the early vaquero tradition of horse training. 

The two contestants took to the arena to be judged on horsemanship, with Mansmith being crowned queen afterward and Clarkson as the runner-up.

Admission to the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo is $10 for adults and $7 for children age 11 and younger; parking is free. Admission to the Western Art & Tack Show is free. For information on events and times, visit or call 831.628.3545.

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