"I hate cows. They're the worst creatures to take care of. ...You can train a horse, but you can't train a cow," she said.
Hearell's affection for horses, however, has endured. She became involved in the Kentucky Junior Rodeo Association when she began kindergarten, and later joined the National Wrangler Junior High Rodeo Association.
Now a senior at Crittenden County High School, Hearell competes in a variety of rodeo events, ranging from barrel racing to breakaway roping, which she said is her favorite.
Riding is a family activity for the Hearells. They go on a nine-day trail ride in the Shawnee National Forest together every year, and Hearell's older brother, Dusty, and older sister, Tiffany, also ride. Hearell said she's already training a horse for her niece, who will soon turn 3.
"My dad said it was born into me to be on a horse," Hearell said.
Stacie Hearell, daughter of Debbie and Larry Hearell, is the Mid-Continent University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MCU Teen of the Week selected from nominees whom guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois submit to the Sun. Mid-Continent University will provide each Teen of the Week with a $2,500 annual scholarship to its university, which is renewable for four years. In the spring, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners. The Teen of the Year is eligible for a full four-year scholarship to Mid-Continent University or a cash award of $2,500, paid through the Paducah Sun, if the student selects another college to attend.
Hearell said it takes more than athleticism to make it in the rodeo. Passion and old-fashioned hard work mean the difference between success and failure in the sport.
"You have to be really dedicated to it. You can't just get on your horse, go to the rodeo, and win," Hearell said.
The horses with which Hearell competes are her responsibility. She feeds them, trains them, and loads them up for visits to the vet when they're sick. Training for the rodeo is a daily process, she said, and requires more hours than volleyball or softball, the two sports she plays at her high school.
"Playing volleyball or softball, you practice for an hour or two a day and you go play a game. (With) rodeo, your horse has to be in shape. You have to have a lot of luck on your side. If you don't have luck, you don't have anything," she said.
Since Hearell's family didn't have a lot of money when she was growing up, the 18-year-old is no stranger to hard work. She remembers that her horses were not always the fastest or the strongest, so she learned to put in extra effort to get what she wanted out of the animals, and of herself.
Hearell now works part time as a reporter for the Crittenden Press, which has led her to start her own small photography business on the side. She also works Friday through Sunday as a waitress at the Coon Dog Inn Restaurant.
"I like meeting the new people, and the regulars, they always have a story to tell," she said. "I always tell them they're solving the problems of the world one cup of coffee at a time."
Hearell is active in the Future Farmers of America, and recently qualified to go to state for the individual Horse Impromptu Speaking event. This will be her second time competing at that level, she said.
Though sports and work keep her busy, Hearell has managed to keep a perfect grade point average throughout her high school career, earning recognition for her performance in her world civilization and English classes.
"If I'm going to put my name on something, it has to be absolutely perfect, and I want to put the most I can into it. I don't do anything halfway," she said.
Hearell hopes to pursue a career in nursing — her mother is a registered nurse, and Hearell takes a healthcare course through trade school — at either West Kentucky Community & Technical College or Murray State University. But she's not sure she wants to stay in western Kentucky forever.
"It's nice growing up here ... but I'd like to expand," she admitted.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.