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In what has become an Antelope County Fair tradition, a flag team can be seen performing before the team penning every year on Wednesday night.
The flag team performs various maneuvers on horseback while carrying flags, all set to music. This year’s musical selections included “Run Wild Horses” by Aaron Watson, “Thunderstruck” by ACDC, “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle, “County Fair” by Chris LeDoux, and the Star Spangled Banner.
About eight years ago, Fred Anderson had the idea for the flag team.
“When I was on the fair board, it just kind of came to mind that maybe we need to spice some of this up a bit. That’s kind of what popped into my head, and it just went from there,” he said.
“My first thoughts, when this was all just kind of formulating in my mind, was, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a group of girls that did this at our fair and get the word out far enough that, all of the sudden, other rodeos and other places were calling us to come do this.’”
However, Anderson doesn’t think the idea will come to fruition.
“These girls, now a days, when they get to being a little further along in high school, they’ve got other things coming up, and a lot of other responsibilities,” he said. “You have girls that have part-time jobs, you have people thinking about college. They’re being pulled so many different directions, that I think this will probably stay here at the Antelope County Fair.”
Anderson started the group by asking 4-H girls in Antelope County if they would be interested in being on a flag team. “They were just jumping,” he said. “And it wasn’t the idea of making money, it was the idea of fun.”
“The girls’ names on the team will pretty much change year by year. I have some that this is their second year. I have some that have been with it for four years,” Anderson said. “But those girls are getting to be like seniors in high school or just out of high school, and next year they probably won’t be around. The girls I have are anywhere from 8th grade to just out of high school.”
There is no age limit, however.
“It’s pretty much if their parent thinks they’re old enough and good enough on a horse and be able to ride like we do holding a flag,” Anderson said.
This year, the flag team consists of seven girls, six of whom performed at the Antelope County Fair on Wednesday night. The team includes: Emily Ahlers, 13, Clearwater; Taylor Bolling, 16, Clearwater; Bailey Lehr, 17, Columbus; Brooke Lehr, 14, Columbus; Macy Zentner, 18, Cedar Rapids; Morgan Erhardt, 15, Clearwater; and Ashleigh Nelson, 16, Tilden. Bobie Shabram also helps Anderson with the team.
Nelson is considered to be the team captain.
“She’s the one that has been helping a lot with this,” Anderson said.
When she was younger, she watched in awe and wanted to be a part of it someday.
“The rodeo queen was in it, and she was really pretty, so I wanted to be with her. I thought it was super cool,” Nelson said. “And then the next year, I got asked to help with it, and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And here I am, at least five years later, doing the exact same thing.”
As team captain, Nelson helps the rest of the team.
“I’m just here to tell people what’s going on, kind of explain how the pattern goes, and then yell at people to make their cones and everything, make their corners, use the arena, and just have a fun time,” she said.
Every year, the Clearwater Rodeo Queen is invited to be a part of the team. Team member Bailey Lehr was one of the Clearwater Rodeo Queens who took advantage of the opportunity, and now has been with the team for at least four years.
“She hasn’t stopped coming. She’s made a lot of friends up here and likes to be around some for the fair, and all of the sudden, her little sister, a couple years ago, we were short, just hopped on a horse and helped us out,” Anderson said about Lehr.
The 2018 Clearwater Rodeo Queen, Macy Zentner, also took advantage of the opportunity to be on the team this year.
“This is my first year on the team. I was invited because I won Miss Clearwater Rodeo 2018. I agreed to the team because when I was little, I had always wanted to be on a drill team. I thought they were pretty cool, so to get invited as a queen, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m totally doing that,’” Zentner said.
This is Morgan Erhardt’s second year with the team. “Fred came to me and asked if I would like to be a part of it last year, and then this year, I’m just a returning member,” she said. “It’s just fun to be here with a group of girls, working with their horses, doing something cool like this, representing the flag.”
Many things go into making the patterns that the girls ride.
“There wasn’t really anything to go by besides me watching some other flag teams around the country and searching online and finding patterns other people have made,” Anderson said. “The first time we had the pattern, besides what we just drew out in the dirt, I put it together from everything else I had seen, and since then, every girl on the team has input, ‘What do we want to change, would it be any better doing this?’ That’s kind of what our practices are,” he explained.
Both Anderson and Nelson’s goal this year was to start practices as early as the weather turned nice enough to ride outdoors. However, weather prevented that from happening.
“This year, it kind of seemed like every time we wanted to practice, it rained or the arena was flooded,” Anderson said. “I think so far this year, we met at my house one time and started going over some things.”
The team practiced for only the third time with horses right before their presentation on Wednesday night.
“It’s a really good idea to run through it once or twice before everybody gets there,” Anderson explained. “Every time you have practice, the first time around doesn’t look so good.”
He said that by about the third time around, the horses are warmed up and in the right frame of mind.
“You can’t just write it down and say, ‘OK, do this.’ It’s timing,” Anderson continued.
In order to get the timing down, the team added a whistle this year.
“As we’re changing, going from one pattern to another, you try to make it as seamless as you can. We’ve got horses here waiting, we’ve got this one coming and when this one gets here, the whistle blows and then the rest of them follow,” Anderson explained.
The horses also need time to get used to the flags.
“I actually believe (Tuesday night) was the first time we carried flags this year,” he said. “Most of the horses we have here have done it with flags before, but … they hadn’t seen one for a while, so it took a little coaxing, little rubbing the flag over them until
they finally realized, ‘I know what this is, this is no big deal.’”
Although Anderson doesn’t ride much anymore, his background lends itself well to working with the team.
“I can verify that I’ve been bucked off more horses than most people have ridden,” he said.
His background includes team roping and bareback riding, competing at a few college rodeos, as well as local rodeos. He and his dad were also paid to train horses for people “way back in the day on the farm,” and he showed horses in 4-H when he was a kid.
If anyone were to ask Anderson why he continues to work with the flag team, his reply will be, “It’s just because I love doing it. It might be a little crazy.”