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Time to compete: Bemidji native returns home; competes in MRA State Finals tonight

Alyshia Moe rides her five year old horse Highlight Express, practicing the barrels Thursday evening before tonight’s competition at the Sanford Center. The Minnesota Rodeo Association Finals will take place for the next two days, hosting some of Bemidji’s best riders and their horses. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- It's a happy homecoming for Alyshia Moe.

Moe, a Bemidji native who went away last year for her first year of college, has returned home and is among those who will compete in the Minnesota Rodeo Association state finals, which takes place tonight and Saturday at the Sanford Center.

"I'm excited," said Moe, who took part in the state finals here last year as well. "It will be a lot easier. I won't feel so pressured. Last year I got really nervous when I competed here but this year, I don't think I will because the last two months have been way more nerve-wracking."

Moe, who has been barrel racing since she was young, recently was named the barrel racing champion in the Great Plains Region as she competed on the women's rodeo team at South Dakota State University.

Her first-place finish earned her a berth in the College National Finals Rodeo, to be take place in June in Wyoming.

"I wanted to make it to Nationals," said Moe, who had to finish in the top three to do so. "Obviously I wanted to try to win the Regions, but I didn't know how good of a chance I had. It turned out I had a pretty good one."

She has never seen the arena in which Nationals will take place, but from what she's heard, it looks promising.

"It's small and indoors, which is for Payday (her horse), she can really rock," Moe said. "We have a good chance."

Moe, the daughter of Everett and Diane Moe, grew up around horses, getting her first pony at age 4. She watched a few years later as her mom, who had competed as a kid herself, got a horse and began training and competing as a barrel racer.

"I saw her doing it and I was like, 'I want to do that,'" Moe said.

So she did -- and she's done it well.

Moe, who graduated Bemidji High School last spring, for four straight years qualified for and competed in the national high school rodeo competition.

She decided to attend SDSU "100 percent" for its rodeo program, moving there last fall in advance of her freshman year. She had a lot of success there, not only winning the championship title in her event, but also contributing heavily to her team's overall first-place win for the region. Moe said she earned 1,000 of the team's total 3,000 points.

That said, she has decided to not return to SDSU, instead opting to attend Bemidji State University to major in elementary education. BSU does not have a rodeo program, but Moe hopes to obtain her professional rodeo certificate and compete professionally.

"I went there (to SDSU) for rodeo and that went really, really well," she said, stating the school was not a good fit for her. "I did so well in rodeo that I don't feel that I have anything left to prove."

Winning ultimately made her decision to not return easier, she noted.

Now, having been home less than a week, Moe is looking forward to her competition this weekend, where she can relax and perform in front of friends and family.

She hopes to do better here than she did last year, when on her first run Payday got excited at the start -- as she's prone to do -- and got Moe's leg caught up in the gate as the horse ran out into the arena.

"My leg caught the fence and we took the fence with me," Moe said. "All the way down the alley, "I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I think I just lost my leg,' because it hurt and yet I was numb from the knee down. I was going to the first barrel thinking, 'Oh this must look really gross,' but I was really just fine. I have a scar but I didn't have to get stitches or anything."

This time, she said, she's going in with a good attitude.

"You have to learn to have fun," she said. "You're going to have bad rodeos, you're going to have bad weekends. You have to learn it's for fun, nothing's on the line either way. It's good, because you're where you want to be and you're doing what you love."