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 Humphrey
Fate, luck, and old-fashioned work ethic landed Nicole Baggarley at the second National Finals Breakaway Roping in Las Vegas last year. Roping was never something Nicole wanted to pursue, she even fought it when her hand was forced after moving into a new age division in junior rodeo. “The older age group didn’t have one of my speed events and if I wanted to compete for the all-around, I had to pick up roping,” said the longtime New Mexico native who now lives in Las Cruces. “My parents (Kevin and Jenny) were on the board for that association I was moving up in and they tried to get that timed event moved to my new age division. Other families on the board told them I would just have to learn how to rope like their kids did.” When Nicole qualified for the breakaway finals, she went out of her way to thank that family for their role in her success as a roper.
“I’m very thankful I had to learn to rope all those years ago. I wouldn’t have made it to the finals otherwise.” As her barrel horse reached retirement, Nicole found herself breakaway roping on a horse her brother, Carl, also used on calves. “That was when I really started enjoying roping calves. I had gotten to a point where I liked roping, but I struggled because I didn’t have the horses I needed until I got Harley, who I rode my senior year and through college.” That was when Nicole started heading. She competed at USTRC and World Series jackpots all through college on a regular basis. Finding a place to turn steers in New Mexico was always easy, but roping calves seemed to be exclusively a rodeo event. At least, that was the case before breakaway roping exploded. “Right now, I’m a professional breakaway roper and that’s about all I do. This summer I headed for my husband (Brice) for the first time in about two years.”
Back in 2009 when Nicole was a sophomore in high school, she joined the NMRA for the first time. It was a great place to get experience outside the high school rodeos and now it’s like coming home. “It’s a great association because I don’t have to travel far to hit some good rodeos. And I can season my colts in a place that provides the complete rodeo atmosphere with the tough competition they need to get ready for pro rodeos.” Nicole is leading the women’s all-around race in the NMRA because she’s roping both calves and steers this summer.
When Nicole finds herself at home during the school year, she’s dubbed herself the “unofficial official women’s coach” for the New Mexico State University Rodeo Team. “I got thrown into that role because I’m the coach’s wife. Honestly, I love it. I love giving lessons and helping the next generation do things that maybe would’ve made things easier for me. I love seeing progression in the people that I get to help.” Perhaps that’s why working colts has always been a fulfilling job for Nicole. Even though she’s not riding any outside colts this summer, she has plenty of up-and-comers of her own that have kept the highway hot this season.
Six-year-old, ex-cutter JoJo is who Nicole thinks will be her next great calf horse. “She got hurt last fall and it took about eight months before I could haul her again, but she did the fourth of July run with me. She helped me place fifth in the average out of 187 entries at a huge jackpot in Arizona. It was her first really big jackpot, so that was really cool.” This wouldn’t be Nicole’s life if her main mount didn’t make a surprise entrance. Calamity was one of two horses that helped Nicole qualify for the finals and she’s still in the trailer today. “I bought her mom and she kept getting fatter even though I was using her on the ranch and at roping practice. Then she started growing a bag and a week later, Calamity popped out.” In the moment, it was rather inconvenient that her using horse had a surprise baby but ultimately, it’s worked out well for Nicole. “Calamity is my number one. I was mad at the time but now I’m so thankful that happened; it was a stroke of very good luck.”
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