The smell of dust and horses and cattle fills the arena – the sight of pearl snaps, ropes, spurs, boots and hats set the scene.
And a simple nod from the header to the chute man begins a process that might take only five seconds – on a good day.
On any given Saturday this fall, Senior Chris Gonzales and his nine-year-old quarter horse Whistle find themselves in the thick of the rodeo arena, bright lights beaming down, for team roping events.
“(Roping is fun because of) the adrenaline rush you get from running down the calf and the possibility of awards you could win,” Chris said. “When I first started, I would get nervous. I still do get nervous, just not as much as I used to. When there are more people around and actual rodeos, I have a tendency to get real nervous, but around here I really don’t get that nervous.”
The 18-year-old has roped competitively at area roping events, including Kenedy’s Chesnutt Arena, for six years. On Oct. 30 at a roping in Pleasanton, he won $100. His biggest payout came this past summer at the Stockdale Watermelon Jubilee in June when he split $1,675, a pair of shiny belt buckles and the opportunity to showcase his talent in the festival’s rodeo.
He plans to attend this weekend’s, Nov. 12, David Lee Garza y Los Musicales Roping Classic at the Chesnutt Arena in Kenedy.
Roping is a way of life for Chris and his family, and he hopes to continue while attending college next year and as long as he can as a hobby.
“I learned to rope from my dad and brother because they have always done it, and want to make them proud,” he said, noting that his grandfather also roped. “I am surrounded by livestock, which has pushed me more toward roping. It has always been in my family, so I’m just trying to keep the tradition alive.”
Chris’s parents Mike and Janie Gonzales recalled how Chris rode their family’s dogs and roped other dogs when he was a toddler, living on their 10-acre tract of land out in the country near Lenz.
“One value he has learned (from roping) is taking responsibility for his horse and his actions,” Mrs. Gonzales said, as Mr. Gonzales added, “He has learned a tradition from the Old West because it has been the ranch way of life for our family.”
Chris is the baby of his family, having two older sisters and an older brother who also ropes. In fact, his favorite partners to team up with are his brother Mikey and his cousin Jesse Gonzales. He also has roped with Sophomore Taylor Johnson, who commented that he is a good roper.
Chris has had to adjust to a new horse these past several months, after his beloved horse Ocho, whom he raised from a colt, died last year from colic.
“Ocho was the first horse I ever had and trained to rope,” he said. “I got the name Ocho when I was in the fourth grade because all I would do is talk about Ocho so my teacher (Mrs. Cheryl Moy) called me Ocho one day and it just stuck after that.”
He said Whistle has picked up roping techniques pretty well.
“Whistle wasn’t too hard to train because he was already rideable I just took him to practices as much as I could and showed him what he had to do until it stuck in his mind,” Chris continued. “Now that he knows what to do, he is working like a charm.”
Chris’s roping ability caught the attention of his girlfriend of one-year-and four-months Cynthia Huerta, a Junior.
“His skills were more advanced than some of the older ropers,” she said. “I see the intensity and passionate bond that he and his horse have to win the gold. (But) yes, I get very nervous when he moves his horse to turn the steer because I am scared the horse might fall with him.”
Chris, who stands 5-feet, 5-inches and weighs 165 pounds, practices two to three hours twice a week when time allows.
“My dad once told me that roping is 25 percent skills and 75 percent practice, so that has always been in my head to practice because practice makes perfect,” Chris said.
The entire Badger Times staff contributed to this report, as it served as several class exercises in writing feature profiles.