Roper Review: John Gaona, Jr.
Written by: Lily Weinacht< Back to Articles
John Gaona, Jr., may be a senior at Hayden High School with plans for college, but he already knows what he wants to do with his life – rope. He’s been roping competitively since just five years old, and this summer, the 17 year old from Winkelman, Arizona, won the team roping at the NHSFR with his partner, Marcos Martinez. It was John’s first year heeling in high school rodeo, having qualified for the NHSFR his freshman year in the heading, where he finished tenth in the nation. “I felt pretty confident about Nationals – I’ve been there plenty of times, and I knew Marcos just had to do his part and I had to do mine,” says John. The friends have been roping together at least six years, though this was their first season rodeoing together. “We were mainly doing jackpots before. It helps that we’ve roped together for a while, and Marcos is fully committed to heading and everything being perfect.”
John inherited the roping gene from his dad, John Gaona, and receives pointers from both him and his older brother Steven. They tell the two Johns apart by calling John Jr. his nickname, Gordo. “I was chubby when I was little, so that’s my nickname,” John says with a laugh. He and his dad and brother compete in the USTRC, while Steven holds cards with the GCPRA and PRCA, and won the NIRA Grand Canyon region in the team roping last year. “I rope with my dad or my brother every day – we have an arena, plus I have heeling dummies outside and in the house to practice on.” John enjoys heading and heeling equally, but switched to heeling when he and Marcos teamed up for the AHSRA this year. John’s first qualification at the national level was his seventh grade year, where he won reserve in the team roping, followed by another trip to the NJHFR in eighth grade.
The high school rodeo season in Arizona doesn’t start until mid-September, but John stays occupied with jackpots, team ropings, and training horses with his brother. Steven trained John’s head horse, Kansas, while John trained his heel horse, Sparticus, using them for practice, jackpots, and the occasional rodeo. His main mount is Frito, Steven’s ten-year-old palomino gelding. John and Marcos flew to Nationals and met Steven, who was rodeoing in Wyoming, where they competed on Frito and Penny, Steven’s other horse.
The brothers have a sister and older brother, also ropers, and they leave the roping pen just long enough to go fishing on the Salt River or deer hunting in the winter. Their mom, Angie Gaona, doesn’t rope, but is skilled in the art of hauling horses and packing food for the entire family.
A senior at Hayden High School, John enjoys playing basketball and dodgeball in P.E. He played football last year, but chose to focus on rodeo this season. “I’m pretty happy with just rodeoing,” he explains. John never pulls out of the driveway for a rodeo without his roping dummy to warm up on, and his favorite high school rodeo is the state finals held in Payson, where he can also compete in jackpots following the performances. His plan is to start pro rodeoing in the next few years, though he also intends to college rodeo. “I’m still looking at schools, but I want to stay in Arizona,” he finishes. “My current goal is to try and win Nationals again.