A team of Flag Girls are a part of the Franklin Rodeo’s opening ceremony. They added pageantry and excitement to the ceremony and set the tone for the night’s entertainment. The girls ride with precision carrying a pole with a full-sized flag at a dead run around an arena with stands filled with cheering people, according to Jill Fitzgerald, rodeo co-chairman.
The people are usually still standing and cheering after just hearing the National Anthem.
“Looking up at all the people in the arena as we race around can be kind of scary sometimes,” said Flag Girl Mattie Pinkerton.
For several hours before the rodeo begins members of the Flag Girl team practice balancing their flags, maintaining their positions, keeping a horse-length between each other, lining up along the rail and performing their routine, “making sure the timing is right,” Pinkerton added. “We have to know the pattern and stay in position.”
The horses are trained to be accustomed to the waving flag behind their eyesight, the noise of the crowd and the high energy in the building, but occasionally they shy and the riders have to be on guard and prepared to react and maintain control. The horse can’t get riled when a flag touches its side before and after entering the ring or react to sudden movements from the stands as they race along the rail.
Dayna Laroue has been on the Flag Girl team for three years. Her “absolute favorite” responsibility is carrying the American flag.
“I get teary-eyed every time - no matter where I’m carrying it,” she said. “It’s the tradition; it’s the country and honoring veterans.”
Carrying a sponsor flag is a way of saying thank you for helping to make the rodeo possible, she added.
Like many Flag Girls, Pinkerton was riding alone on her pony by the time she was three-years old. She joined the Flag Girl team when she was in seventh grade. Now a grown woman, she still enjoys being a part of the team. The looks on the kids’ faces and the adrenalin rush she gets as she races around the arena.
“It’s the adrenalin rush, feeling the horse;s heart beat faster as he feels the excitement - we all get excited, she said. “It’s really exciting to go through the gate and into the arena.”
When not on a flag team, Pinkerton competes in barrels, poles, break-away, team roplng and goat tying.
Laroue started out riding with her mother before she was a year old. When she was two-years old she took the reins. At the age of three she was showing a horse in lead-line classes and learning to ride English style. When she got a little older a friend introduced her to the Pony Club and began entering three-day jumping events.
She recalled the day she went to her first youth rodeo event.
“I decided then I wanted to switch,” she said. “I still enjoyed jumping on my English pony but there was something about rodeos.”
Rodeo is like a community, Laroue said. Although they are competing in the arena, contestants are friends outside the arena. She competes in barrels, poles and breakaway roping.
In 2011 Laroue had a traumatic brain injury and “everybody across the country knew about it,” she said. “I received so many cards, prayers and help.”
The Franklin rodeo had become a very special event for Laroue. It’s the tradition, the fun and the community doing something special and important to help others.
“It’s bigger than getting a buckle,” she said.
Both Laroue and Pinkerton love the end of the show when they line up along the rail so the people - mostly kids - get to pet her horse and say hello.”I’m just grateful Bill (Fitzgerald) and Jill ask us to do this every year,” Pinkerton said.