Meet the Member Karlene Gonzales

by Rodeo News

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 season that started out with, “I was really, really scared.”
Life was on an uncharted course for Gonzales in 2022 and she had no idea what a “comeback kid” story she would become before it was over. Early in the year she declared her official retirement from a career of teaching art followed by her last posting as the Curator of Art Events at New Mexico Highlands University Ray Drew Gallery in Las Vegas, NM. That left her with time for doing her own art, taking care of her family ranch and finding new goals to keep her inspired.
A big paint horse with some solid barrel racing history was standing in her pen needing a job and Gonzales’s daughter Johnna suggested to her mom to take Gato Tomás and get back to some barrel racing. While easy in concept, the process was terrifying for Gonzales. “I hadn’t rodeoed since 2007,” she said, “and all I could feel was scared.”
Entering the NMRA Membership Drive Rodeo in April, Gonzales got a couple runs under her belt. “My horse was fine. He’d been trained and run by Caren Lamb for years. It was me that was needing to get back in the game. But that feeling when you hear your name called … and then it’s time.”
However, fate intervened to slow her rodeo roll. On April 6 the catastrophic Hermit’s Peak Fire began 12 miles NW of Las Vegas and quickly and for months became the life consuming focus for anyone living in the area. “The smoke got so bad I had to move the horses (from the corrals at her home near town) out to the ranch and rodeoing just had to take a back seat to everything else,” Gonzales recalls.
Ultimately, she was back on the road, entering, winning here and there and finally capturing that momentum she had hoped for. “I had to get out of my own head and just do it,” she said. “Then it was fun again.”
Gonzales’ art talents sprouted within her as a child when she spent hours at the ranch with her dad where rustic was defined as no electricity, no lights, no running water. With stacks of Western Horseman magazines on the shelf, she would spend hours drawing what she found within those pages and her dad would hang her masterpieces around the old adobe house.
Annually Gonzales has done a piece of art to be auctioned at the Cowboys for Cancer Auction at the Ricky Chavez Rodeo Reunion, collaborating with Shane Parker and Shane Thurston for the unique framing. She also has ongoing commissioned pieces in progress on her easel. “I look at my art career as waiting to blossom,” she says with a laugh. “Someday.”
Gonzales’ rodeo goal for her comeback year was to “win a buckle and make the finals.” She admits to having a mindset “to do stuff just to see if I can do it.” But she also recognized it was one day at a time, completely on faith. That’s how the year started but it ended far beyond her expectations.
“I ended up winning both go rounds and the Average of the Incentive Barrels at the NMRA Finals, and to my surprise, was also the Year End Champion,” she said. “I left with four buckles and a certificate for a saddle. I was so shocked.”
Gonzales quickly and often gives God all the glory for her year. From the horse she rode, which she bought from her very best friend, Carlos Ortiz who passed away in September, to her favorite art commission of Carlos roping in the branding pen, Gonzales knows it was all a gift. “God is so amazing. This has been a total God thing and I’m so grateful for it.”
What’s next for the “comeback kid” who just celebrated her “21st birthday for the third time?” She’ll become a grandmother in March to a grandson, Elijah James. And then rodeo season starts all over again.

                © Rodeo Life Media Corporation | All Rights Reserved • Laramie, Wyoming • 307.761.9053

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