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Kaua‘i paniolo to compete in national rodeo

Kaua‘i High School rodeo participants Kahanu Blackstad and Kiana Mertz are set to represent Hawai‘i later this month after qualifying for a national competition.

“It means a lot to get an opportunity like this,” Blackstad said. “It’s actually great for us Hawai‘i kids, because it’s more exposure that we can get, which is better for us — and better for our mental game that we have to enter in other rodeos around here, too.”

Both students competed in the high school state finals rodeo last month to qualify for nationals. Blackstad finished third in boys cutting, while Mertz finished sixth in pole bending. Blackstad also finished second in Po‘o Wai U and fifth in reined cow horse.

The pair are relatively new to their respective categories, although they’re no strangers to rodeo.

Blackstad only started competing in cutting this year. He’s previously represented Hawai‘i in national competition for both breakaway and ribbon roping.

This will be Mertz’s first time competing on the national stage. A longtime barrel racer, Mertz added pole bending to her resume two years ago, and quickly grew fond of it.

“I have a fast horse, so it’s really fun to just push him and go as fast as you can,” Mertz said. “I really love the adrenaline rush — it’s just really fun to me. It just takes a lot of focus and teamwork with your horse, and I enjoy it.”

However, because the tournament takes place in Wyoming, both competitors will have to lease horses when they reach the mainland — a costly but necessary process.

“I’ve ridden a lot of horses so that I know what I can get into. But for other people, it could be hard just getting used to the horse and not being able to click with the horse in that short of a time span before we come to compete,” Blackstad said.

Mertz, too, remains unphazed over her travel troubles.

“(My horse is) pretty new at poles, and horses in Wyoming run very fast for poles — they’re way more trained and seasoned in poles,” she said. “So I’m going to be leasing a horse out there for poles that is seasoned and very well trained.”

The rodeo will last one week, from July 16 through 22. As both paniolo prepare for competition, Mertz told The Garden Island she’s envisioned this moment for much of her life.

“It’s been my dream to always rodeo, so it’s a big deal for me,” Mertz said. “I would have never thought, three years ago today, that I would be going to nationals. I’m really excited to go and experience that, and it just makes me happy that I am pursuing rodeo the way I’ve always wanted to when I was a little girl. I’m really excited, and it means a lot to me.”

Blackstad and Mertz are both seeking financial assistance in order to lease horses for competition.

w Blackstad is accepting donations on Venmo at @waiblackstad.

w Mertz is accepting donations on Venmo at @kianamertz and on GoFundMe at


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or

w Editor’s note: Because the aforementioned national rodeo does not allow the use of its logo, initials or printed name for personal fundraising, The Garden Island has chosen not to name the competition.
Source: The Garden Island

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