Taylor Dunlap is a Yorkville teen who’s been passionate about horses since the day she was born.
Of course, being born to horse-loving parents, she was exposed at an early age, sitting atop quarter horses since she herself was able to sit up. Now 16-(almost 17, she reminded me) year-old Dunlap is a front-runner among her rodeoing peers all across the state and perhaps soon the nation.
Dunlap is the daughter of Jason and Lorie Needham and the late Jason Dunlap of Paris. She has a 3-year-old brother, Jack, and a step-sister, Addie who is 10. She is the granddaughter of J.L. and Lisa Needham, who were also brought up in the rodeo world. Dunlap is home-schooled through Gateway Christian Academy and is currently a junior. She will graduate in 2021, and she told me that her favorite subject is math.
I recently caught up with Dunlap, her mom and her 11-year-old cousin Ava Jane “A.J.” Bryant, who has just begun her own rodeo journey, also, in their well-equipped, modern “home away from home” camper that sits parked right beside their barn. Meandering through their vast pasture and in and out of the barn are 14 quarter horses and their sidekick, a mini horse named Buttercup.
When Dunlap was in the fourth grade, she started junior rodeoing all over the state of Tennessee in barrel racing, pole bending and break-away roping. During her seventh and eighth grade years, she made it to the Junior High National Finals.
Dunlap then went to the High School National Finals between her ninth and tenth grade years. That event, which was held in Rock Springs, Wy., is the world’s largest rodeo where every state in the nation along with several other countries are represented. Although Dunlap didn’t place there, she came in around 20th out of approximately 1,500 contestants.
Right now, Dunlap ranks third on Tennessee High School Rodeo Association’s roster in barrels and poles. A contestant must be in the top four to be eligible for the National High School Rodeo Finals, so she is anxiously waiting to see if she will qualify. If she does, she will get to travel with her family and Ace, the 5-year-old quarter horse she trained herself, to Lincoln, Neb. in July.
Lorie Needham said that she home-schools her children for all the usual reasons parents home-school their children, but most of all so that they can follow their own dreams. She said that her family supports rodeo life for several reasons: they don’t want the sport to die out, everyone gets outside for exercise and fresh air, the sport honors a more traditional way of life and is family oriented, they get to fellowship with friends they’ve made everywhere, and because everyone cheers on everyone.
Dunlap said that she rodeos for the thrill of riding, the friendships she has made, her love of horses and the adventure in getting to travel all over the country. Dunlap’s two favorite places have been the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas, where she has now been twice, and Las Vegas, where she went to the National Finals in 2016.
Dunlap said she spends a couple of hours a day doing schoolwork and the rest of her time tending to all the animals on the farm. She also has trained three of her own horses. Dunlap credits her biological father, a professional trainer and farrier who passed away when she was 12, for teaching her everything she knows about training horses. She said that after high school she plans to train professionally, both her horses and other people’s.
While she is yet in high school, you can follow this local rodeo star’s state ranking by visiting Tennessee High School Rodeo Association’s website at www.tnhsra.com.