Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
In rodeo, judges grade bulls on their bucking ability just as they grade contestants on how well they ride. The fiercer a bull bucks, the better the score given to the cowboy who rides it to the buzzer.
During the 46th Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo Oct. 18-22 at the South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was a bull named Dog Soldier who made the difference for Noah Gonzales, 15, of Edgewood, New Mexico.
“He was two jumps and then he would come back to the right,” Noah said of Dog Soldier. “He was the best bull I had seen at the finals.”
Noah rode Dog Soldier to the buzzer to win the third, or championship, round in junior bull riding at INFR, scoring enough points on that ride to finish fourth overall in junior bull riding and bring home a handsome belt buckle and $1,900.
“I could have done better,” he said. “But I am happy how I finished off.”
The short go
Noah, who started riding rowdy sheep when he was 3, has won state titles in bull riding and bareback riding in New Mexico Junior High School Rodeo Association competition and rode bulls in two National Junior High Finals rodeos, finishing fifth in bull riding at this year’s NJHFR in Perry, Georgia.
The Moriarty High School freshman, who has a little Isleta Pueblo blood in him on his father’s side, was riding in his first Indian National Finals Rodeo this month.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It is good to see a national finals for Indians. I met a lot of new people. It was a nice arena and environment.”
Noah said there were about 30 contestants in the junior bull riding competition.
In the first round, Noah drew a bull named Little Bean and rode him to a score of 69, good enough to tie with another rider for a fourth-place/fifth-place split.
“He was a smaller bull,” Noah said of Little Bean. “He jumped off to the left and just kept jumping and kicking. He had me off to the side. He was hard to hang on to.”
He hung on to Little Bean, but not his second bull, which bucked him off for no score.
“He had one jump and then come back to the fence and then come back to the right,” Noah said. “I should have covered him.”
Even with no points to show for the second round, Noah’s first-round score was good enough to rank him seventh going into the third or championship round. Only the top 10 riders got a bull to ride in that round, known as the short go.
Noah knew he had a shot to score well in the short go when he drew Dog Soldier.
“A rider had won the second round on him,” he said. “He was a challenge to ride.”
Noah met the challenge, scoring a 74, six points higher than the second-place finisher in that third round.
‘Did pretty well’
The overall champion is determined by adding up the scores in all three rounds. If Noah had scored on that second bull, he might have had a shot at being the champ.
“You can’t ride them all,” said Adam Gonzales, Noah’s father. “But then he drew a good bull (Dog Soldier) and knew he had to ride that bull. All in all I think he did pretty well.”
When he gets done with high school, Noah wants to attend a college that has a rodeo team and eventually ride bulls on the pro rodeo circuits.
“If he stays healthy and keeps his mind right, he can make all that come true,” Adam Gonzales said. “We support him in doing what makes him happy, and we try to help him accomplish his goals.”
Noah is putting his winnings in his bank account and intends to use the money for rodeo entry fees.
Next up for him is a bull-riding invitational the day after Thanksgiving at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth.
“I’m going to get on some practice bulls before then,” Noah said. “I go into every rodeo with the confidence that I am going to do the best that I can.”