“I’ve been watching my dad from behind the chutes since I was 3 or 4 years old and riding since I was 9,” Najiah Knight said during our phone interview. “He’s my inspiration.”
The thirteen-year-old’s name is pronounced “nay-jah,” and she’s a spitfire with a heart of gold. Najiah comes from rural Oregon and dreams of being the first female bull rider to qualify for the Professional Bull Rider’s Association—PBR.
Knight is both Klamath and Piute and proud of her Native American heritage. At 4’11” and 75 pounds, her attitude about life overrides the orneriness of the 800-1000-pound mini bulls she rides.
She also has a message for young girls chasing their dreams.
“Girls can do anything. Don’t let anyone hold you back. Live your best life.” This message earned her a 2020 honor at “Girls and Women Sports Night” at Madison Square Garden in New York City where her riding highlight reel was shown on the videoboard during a break in the action of a Rangers hockey game.
This young cowgirl is confident, kind, and full of grit.
Not a notch of fear lingered in her voice during our interview when she stated, “I ride because it’s fun.”
Fun for Najiah but perhaps a little nail-biting for her mother, Missi, who became a certified EMT. During practices she is the medic and cheerleader, available to Najiah, her father, Andrew, and her two older brothers who also ride bulls.
Missi Knight videotapes her daughter’s rides so Najiah can learn from her buck-offs.
This Oregon cowgirl began her rodeo journey riding sheep. From there she moved up to calves, to steers, and now is in her final year of mini-bulls as a senior rider for the Chris Shivers’ Miniature Bull Riders Association—MBR—founded by Cirildo and Lillie Leal.
No other rodeo events have come close to snagging her interest.
It was bull riding from the get-go.
MBR, the developmental organization Najiah competes in, is separate from PBR. According to a PBR Spokesperson, “PBR totally supports MBR–it’s a terrific path for grooming the next generation of bull riders.”
“It’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent strength,” Najiah declared when asked how she stays in shape. “I lift weights, jump rope, punch bags, and do lunges with my dad and brothers.” She practices riding on her uncle’s bucking machine and rides live bulls at a local arena weekly.
For those who are not familiar with bull riding, here are the steps Najiah takes to get ready when at an event.
After pulling into a venue, Najiah finds the chutes and hangs up her vest and chaps. As most athletes know, it’s important to warm up and stretch to loosen stiff muscles, so she takes the time to do so.
From there, she applies rosin to her bull rope to prevent her hand from sliding. Mentally, she’s getting her head in the game and puts her gear on (vest, chaps, helmet, spurs, gloves, mouthpiece) while she waits for her turn.
Before each ride, she tells herself, “Focus,” “You got this,” “Stay in the middle,” “Have fun,” “It’s just me against the bull.”
Once on the miniature bull, she wraps one hand with the rope, making sure it’s snug, calls for the gate (to be opened), and hangs on!
She hears nothing during this time, as her focus is strictly on her ride. She moves with the bull and keeps check on her seat position and free arm. When the buzzer goes off, she lets go or gets help from one of the bullfighters. (With miniature bulls there is no barrel man.) Both bull and rider are then scored up to 25 points each, for a total of no more than 50 points.
“Everyone has their own way of celebrating after a great ride,” Najiah added. “I flex, and my brothers call me the Hulk flex.”
Not only do Najiah’s brothers advocate her bull riding, so do her male competitors. “We support each other.” Many are protective of her, which makes her feel safe, even with her PBR circle of friends. Who wouldn’t want to be mentored by Jess Lockwood, who at 19 years old became the youngest PBR World Champion (November 5, 2017)? “He’s my best friend!” Najiah claims.
Or 2018 Rookie of the Year, Keyshawn Whitehorse, who is Navajo, for that matter.
I asked her what her biggest fear in life was. There was a pause on the other end. Why? Because she couldn’t think of anything that scares her. What a great outlook on life, and the reason I believe she will make it to the PBR and make her dreams come true.
Her best bull ride was in New York, and she made history on the 3rd round by being the only rider to cover (stay on the bull for 8 seconds) a bull that day. What a gal!
What does it look like for the rest of the 2020 season?
The COVID-19 Pandemic may have caused events to halt for now, but it has not slowed down this gal’s training. Not a speck. She recently traveled to Texas for an event. She had not yet heard results but said she felt good about her ride and claimed it was “Amazing.”
Normally, the season runs from February until November. Najiah went to Lockney, Texas, in March, soon after the pandemic hit, then she went back to Texas in June. Her next rodeo is scheduled for Springfield, Missouri, in September. If she qualifies, the MBR finals will be the same time as the adult National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
For now, she’ll keep training and riding.
I have a feeling come September, she’ll take mini bull riding by storm.
Bull riding is not this cowgirl’s only interest.
Najiah loves hip-hop dancing, basketball, volleyball, and country music. She is ready for the 8th grade this fall and is looking forward to her favorite subject—shop—and loves to make all kinds of things with wood and mirrors.
Like most Native girls (actually most Native Americans period, and I know this from having Native family members), her favorite food is Indian Tacos. If you have not tried one…go to a powwow near you (when the country is again open) and get your hands on one. You’ll be glad you did.
What’s next for Najiah Knight?
When this season is finished, she moves on to junior bulls and then senior bulls. With sponsors like Cooper Tires, Chad Berger Bucking Bulls, 100X Helmets, Ariat, and the support of her parents and extended family, she’ll have the backing to go all the way. As she likes to say, “Go big or go home!”
In 2018, Najiah finished 11th in the MBR World Standings in the junior division (10/11-year-olds), ahead of a number of her male competitors.
“I want to thank my fans for the love and support they give me,” Najiah said.
According to a PBR spokesperson, “Najiah is working very hard in her attempt to make it into the PBR but is not quite there yet, age-wise. Riders have to be 18 to get their PBR membership card. Should she make it to the elite series, it could be a game-changer in exposing the sport to a new audience.”
Najiah Knight’s goals are to be the first female in the PBR and to be number one in the world. Think she’ll do it? Heck ya!
Follow Najiah Knight
Check out her videos on TikTok and YouTube.
Courtesy PBR RidePass