Meet the Member Karlene Gonzales
story by Julie Carter Karlene Gonzales left the 2022 NMRA Finals with an armload of buckles and awards that were the fruits of a rodeo […]
story by Lindsay King
For the last thirty years, steer wrestling has been an extension of the person that Lance Tolbert is and ever wanted to be. As he approaches half a century, his knees are protesting his passion. “I have avoided injury for most of my career until now. The hardest part of rodeo is staying healthy, but as I have gotten older it gets so much harder. Especially in the steer wrestling. Now that I might have to retire from it, I feel like I am losing a piece of my life. It has taken a lot of soul searching to come to this decision, it is probably one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life,” said the Belen, New Mexico, native.
Lance’s dad rode bucking horses and was a steer wrestler while his mom team roped and ran barrels. When Lance was only eight years old, he started riding steers and then transitioned to junior bulls at 12. The very next year, Lance began steer wrestling. “I roped in high school a little and on the ranch some, but not very competitively. I am getting back into heading now, I tried calf roping but never got a craving for it.” As an all-around competitor, Lance also rode bulls and saddle broncs. That is until he broke his leg. “I was about 19 when I broke my leg pretty bad. I got on about four more bulls after that until I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. I rode bucking horses until I was about 28 though.”
With two older sisters, Lance’s life has always revolved round New Mexico rodeo. Both of his parents (Gary and Sharon) served on the NMHSRA board while he was growing up. The tradition of rodeo and giving back continued with Lance. “Once I was an adult I got on the NMRA board. I have never really known anything else. It is very time consuming, but it is also rewarding.” Lance first served as the steer wrestling director for six years before becoming president of the NMRA for four years. He is now back as the steer wrestling director for the next two years.
After several successful years of high school rodeo that took Lance to nationals, he ventured onto the PRCA circuit. “I did that for a few years, but then I got a family and focused on the amateur rodeos.” He’s actually managed to win some of the biggest rodeos the NMRA has to offer: Durango and Gallup. “Winning Durango in 2015 was a big deal for me. There were 52 steer wrestlers there and I beat all of them in just 4.1 seconds. It was amazing to go to a rodeo like that and beat that many guys.” Even though Lance knows his knees aren’t what they used to be, he is hoping to finish out the season and maybe even compete again next year in the steer wrestling. “I am planning to go to a lot of the bigger rodeos this year. I just want to do a good job as a director to keep my contestants happy and make sure I can get through one more year before I have to give steer wrestling up completely.”
At a NMRA event it is not uncommon to see a 12-year-old competing against their grandparents. “I have grown up with these people and rodeoed with them and now their kids and grandkids are in it. This is what I have always loved about the NMRA, it is a very diverse and family-oriented organization.” Back in the 60s, the NMRA was the Southwest Rodeo Association. Lance’s dad was on the board when they changed the name. “My mom still shows horses and my dad has rodeoed his entire life. They have both been a huge inspiration for me and my sisters. My wife (Donna) has been excellent support as well. She runs barrels and hazes for me but also runs a therapeutic riding center, so she is an amazing person.”
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