Girl Power! ‘You have to know all the bulls’
Najiah Knight has been riding animals that want her off their backs immediately for several years. Starting at the age of three, she watched her dad ride the big bulls so she asked to do the same thing.
Since she was a small girl, her dad put Najiah on the backs of sheep. She says she loved it and couldn’t wait to do the real deal, just like her dad.
“I was always behind the chutes with my dad,” said Najiah. The chutes are the “bucking chutes,” or the confined gates where rodeo riders settle onto the bull and tie the rope onto their hands before the gate swings open into the rodeo arena. The goal is to stay on for eight seconds.
When she was just 9-years-old, Naijah (pronounced Nye-yah) Knight tried her first mini bull at the Challenge of Champions Rodeo. As Najiah’s mom Missi Knight said during the phone interview, “I thought it was pretty cool when she wanted on her first animal.”
Amidst giggles of agreement from Najiah, who also peppered the entire interview with a series of polite, “Yes, sirs,” she described how she once got stomped on by a bull, “It stepped on my face mask and it hit my eye. And so now I have a little scar near my eye.”
She then said, “yes,” as a matter of fact, she would proudly wear the title of one of the toughest young ladies in the world.
When asked if she tries in any way to connect with the big animal she is ever about to ride, she said “yes,” and that she likes to pet them before she heads out.
“You have to know all the bulls. You have to know what they do,” she says. “So, you just got to get ready and just get your mindset and you just pet them so that they know you're there and you're not there to hurt them.”
At just 13-years-old and as the only girl, Najiah’s appearances in the Mini Bull Riders circuit has gained her international attention. She is Yahooskin Paiute, and enrolled with the Klamath Tribe. The Klamath are a confederation of three tribes: Klamaths, Modocs and Yahooskin Paiute.
In the past few weeks, Najiah, who sometimes wears a long braid, or lets her locks flow — while adorned in the coolest western attire to include a large cowboy hat and boots — has been featured in VOGUE, The New York Post, PEOPLE, Access Hollywood.
She appeared on Kelly Clarkson’s television show last August.
Najiah says that all of the media attention she is getting is “amazing.” And though she is the only girl in the Mini Bull Riders, she isn’t worried about any competition from boys. She maintains she is capable of handling her own.
“Yes, sir,” she said regarding boy competitors who might have an attitude toward her competing, “They get sassy towards me, so I get sassy back.”
Najiah attributes her success due to her hard work. “I bench press along with my dad. I do lunges, wall sprints, rope work,” she said. “Then I do a lot of practice on my barrel with my dad as well.”
The Mini Bull Riders said she fits right in.
“Najiah Knight is just like any rider competing on the Mini Bull Riders circuit: tough, not afraid to get take a few shots and get dirty, and relishing every opportunity to climb aboard a bull,” the organization wrote in an emailed statement. “The only difference is the long, dark hair cascading from underneath her helmet.”
Najiah’s mother says they love going to powwows, especially when they are connected to the rodeos. It’s something that gives them a chance to see powwows in other states. “We have been to them a lot of times. We’ve been to powwows in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and New Mexico,” she said. “Najiah loves being Native and is very proud of that it.”
Najiah also said she is thrilled to see Native representation in the Professional Bull Riders. One such example is Keyshawn Whitehorse who received rookie of the year recently.
“I think it's amazing that he's made it this far and that he got rookie of the year as a Native,” said Knight. “And Stetson Lawrence and Ryan Dirteater, they all made it to the PBR.”
As a result of her media exposure, Najiah was invited to a recent New York Rangers hockey game, where she participated in a girls and women’s sports panel. On the panel was the captain of the New York Rockettes. And a silver medalist on the U.S.A. Women’s Olympic hockey team.
“It was amazing, I didn’t expect it. I got to do a question and answer panel and even got to go on the ice,” she said. “I also got a Rangers Jersey.”
Missi Knight is grateful that her daughter is receiving recognition for her efforts. “I feel it's definitely a blessing to have so many people love our wild child,” said Missi Knight.
Najiah’s cousin Raedawn Weiser, who works for the Klamath Tribes, said that many people in her family and the community were glad to see the attention she was getting. “We are really proud of her,” she said.
Andrew Giangola, a spokesperson for the Professional Bull Riders, is glad Najiah is trying to make it in PBR, and observes she seems able to meet a tough challenge.
“Bull riding is an extremely challenging sport. Those around it for a long time say the sport is 90 percent mental, and Najiah has a great head on her young shoulders,” Giangola said. “She’s adorable but beneath the easy smile and ever-present, kind politeness is one tough and committed young lady. Everyone in the western sports world is rooting for her as she develops as an athlete with very big dreams.”
Najiah Knight is not only unafraid of the big bulls charging out of the gate trying to buck her off their backs, but she is also unafraid to pursue her dreams.
“I believe that girls can get anything and everything they want. And if you love it, just go for it. Don't let anybody hold you back. I would say just go for it. Do it for themselves. Just have fun,” says Najiah. “I will be the first girl in the PBR.”