In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a good year for Ava McMurtrey.
In 2020 McMurtrey, 16, was the District 7 Idaho High School Rodeo cutting champion and was a successful hunter too. She and her boyfriend Easton Hall hunt big game.
“I had a lot of success in 2020. On Feb 2, I harvested a mountain lion, in August I harvested a bear and in October I harvested a bull elk and a deer. And I went to cuttings in between and won districts,” she said.
Hall and McMurtrey hunt mountain lions, bears, bobcats and raccoons with his hounds. Hall also works for McMurtrey’s step-dad and horse trainer Vince Bellon. McMurtrey’s parents are Colleen McMurtrey, of Rigby and Ryan McMurtrey of Ammon.
This year, McMurtrey won second in districts in cutting, which put her on the road to the Idaho state high school rodeo championships in Pocatello June 5-12. She also competes in reined cow horse. She’ll compete in that event at state too despite struggling with the speed needed during the fence work portion of the event.
“The reined cow horse event was something new for me, nothing I had ever done before,” she said. “I did well, not quite as well as I would have liked, but everyone has to start somewhere. I had a few good runs and they are taking me to state this year. I’ve learned so much and my horse and I are beginning to get ahold of the whole deal. We are hoping for the best at state.”
Because she was initially afraid of horses and not interested in any horse-related activity or event, the road to success has been long, McMurtrey said. It came as a total surprise to her parents when one day McMurtrey told them she wanted to ride in the Rigby posse.
“I came home and told Vince and he said, ‘Well okay then, we better get you a posse horse,’” McMurtrey said.
McMurtrey learned to ride on one of Bellon’s horses. Eventually she got her own horse. She rode in posse and competed in barrels and poles in junior high school rodeo and started practicing riding a cutting horse with a the help of a training flag.
“From practicing with a flag, Vince slowly introduced cows. We went to a few shows and I started to do well, and then I went on to win districts in 2020,” she said. “We worked extremely hard, it was amazing the success I was beginning to feel. I was also hunting a lot too, riding about four times a week while still doing posse.”
She credits positive experiences in some early shows for improving her confidence. But with any sport there’s always highs and lows. She struggled with mistakes which tend to become a mental tug of war for all sports competitors.
“Like Vince says, you have to have a short term memory when it comes to mistakes. For a while I had a streak of hot quits. It’s a challenge but if you can stop doing it once it gives you confident and you
can get out of it,” she said. “This year I started out with a new horse and she’s been really good for me. She’s experienced so she’s able to get me out of tight spots when sometimes I don’t know what to do.”
She credits her mom and Bellon for helping her throughout her career.
“I mom was my biggest supporter thorough this whole experience. She never missed a beat. She loves to watch me be successful and that really means the most to me. I couldn’t have made this possible without Vince and my mom,” she said. “None of these things I could have done without them right by my side. Without them I would never have been this successful.”