Alexa Hagans, 17, comforts her steer, Ernie, with her mom and step-dad, Sarah and Justin Klassen in the background at the Catch-a-Calf Live Showing Contest in the National Western Complex on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018.

(Rachel Ramberg/CPR News)

Alexa Hagans and Ernie the steer have been inseparable since May last year, when the 17-year-old Elizabeth High School grad took responsibility for the 748 pound animal she’d won after wrangling a calf during the 2017 National Western Stock Show. She halter-trained Ernie and spent the rest of the year getting ready to show him at the Stock Show this year. He grew to more than 1,400 pounds. 

The Catch-a-Calf contest has been a tradition at the Stock Show since 1935. It attracts  kids and teenagers from across the American West. During the rodeos, these young contestants set out in the ring to wrangle a calf. Several months later, those who catch the calves are matched with a steer and sponsor and then, like Alexa, they bring their market steers back to show.

Alexa was one one of 36 contestants this year. Although she and and Ernie did well in some parts of the competition,  they didn't win either Grand or Reserve Champion.  In the video, she talks about the work that went into raising Ernie, the competition, and the challenge of parting with him at the competition's end.