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PBR flag bearer feels the Thunder

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on September 11, 2018 8:04PM

Katie Harris of Pendleton rides Thunder while bearing the U.S. flag during the national anthem before the start of the Pendleton PBR Classic on Monday in Happy Canyon.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Katie Harris of Pendleton rides Thunder while bearing the U.S. flag during the national anthem before the start of the Pendleton PBR Classic on Monday in Happy Canyon.

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Katie Harris made history Monday, and she did it with an unintentional flourish.

Replacing longtime flag bearer Bryson Bronson and his horse Chinook, Harris rode into Happy Canyon Arena with the American flag for the playing of the national anthem ahead of the Professional Bull Riders Classic, the first woman to hold down that role.

A Happy Canyon princess in 2010 and a Round-Up princess in 2012, Harris is an experienced rider. But a lifetime spent on horseback didn’t stop her horse, Thunder, from getting antsy.

Harris led Thunder up a ramp into the backdrop as the national anthem played, but as the pair prepared to descend the ramp, Thunder got spooked and started rearing back.

Harris approached the situation calmly, and after allowing Thunder to calm down safely descended the ramp.

Thunder’s stage fright didn’t come from a lack of preparation on his rider’s part.

Harris said she trained with Thunder for multiple hours per day for 50 days, walking him through the ramp portion of the program and trying to simulate as many elements of the ceremony as possible.

But simulating an audience of thousands of people is a much harder element to create, and sometimes animals are going to have an animal reaction, she said.

“You can feel it in the atmosphere, and horses can pick up on that,” Harris said.

Harris had a big saddle to fill when Bronson retired from flag bearing duties last year, but Happy Canyon President Corey Neistadt said they turned to Harris because her family’s commitment to the organization runs deep.

Harris’ relatives have been Happy Canyon princesses dating back to the 1950s, and both of Harris’ younger sisters were also named to the court. Given her background and her equine ability, Harris got the nod.

“When you make the call, (the Harrises) answer,” he said.

The volunteer role required a large time commitment on top of Harris’ day job working at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute.

But Harris said she was motivated to do it to honor her grandfathers and uncle, who all served in either Korea or Vietnam.

While Bronson used to bear the flag for both PBR and the night show, Neistadt said the role will likely be split up among multiple people throughout the week.

And to avoid another scare from Thunder, Neistadt said Harris would carry the flag on foot tonight ahead of Tuesday’s PBR.

But even without the aid of a horse, Neistadt teased some new dramatics ahead of the last night of Happy Canyon bull riding.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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