Rodeo teens fight to snag national title

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer

ccalloway@pntonline.com

They’re the best of the best in New Mexico, and have spent countless hours practicing for one of the world’s largest rodeos and they’re Roosevelt County’s own.

Connie Watts: Courtesy photo Will Watts shows the skill of his horse during a cutting event at a rodeo competition earlier this year. Watts was the state champion for cutting, a rodeo event that requires the rider and horse to separate a single animal from a cattle herd.

Connie Watts: Courtesy photo
Will Watts shows the skill of his horse during a cutting event at a rodeo competition earlier this year. Watts was the state champion for cutting, a rodeo event that requires the rider and horse to separate a single animal from a cattle herd.

Four of the 1,500 teens competing at this week’s National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming will be representing Roosevelt County. The four boys qualified based on a point system in rodeos they compete in year-round. Finalists must be the top four in their state for their rodeo event.

The boys say rodeo is their way of life, know their horses as their best friends and live their lives in and out of trucks traveling to the next competition.

They say it’s their passion for the sport that keeps them involved and every single one of them is confident in their fighting chance to snag a title.

  • Name: Will Watts
  • Age: 18
  • School: Dora High
  • Rodeo event: Cutting (horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.)

Watts says he was raised on a ranch, so it just made sense that he’d have a love for rodeo. He’s been competing since he was in eighth grade and has earned the state title for cutting.

“I really just like it. It’s what I know how to do,” said Watts about rodeo.

Although this won’t be his first trip to nationals, this will be his last chance to compete at this level as he graduated from Dora High School in May.

Watts says he makes sure he gets plenty of sleep before competing and takes care of his horse Gunny.

“You have to know your horse to do good,” Watts said about the horse he’s had for seven years. “You have to know what your horse is capable of and you have to trust him and he has to trust you.”

Lisa Walker: Courtesy photo Joshua Walker of Dora rope a calf at a rodeo earlier this year. Walker finished fourth in the state in calf roping which qualified him to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals this week in Wyoming.

Lisa Walker: Courtesy photo
Joshua Walker of Dora rope a calf at a rodeo earlier this year. Walker finished fourth in the state in calf roping which qualified him to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals this week in Wyoming.

Watts plans to attend Eastern New Mexico University in the fall to study agricultural business but before he starts his first day as a freshman, he wants to walk on campus a champion.

“It’s his time now,” said Watts’ dad, Mark Watts.

  • Name: Joshua Walker
  • Age: 17
  • School: Dora High
  • Rodeo event: Calf roping

Walker’s been competing since he was 10 so he sees knowing his competitors as being advantageous, not because of knowing their skills but because they’re like family.

“You’re not out there proving a point, you’re out there having fun,” Walker said.

Walker cites his father as his biggest inspiration, his horse Rango as his teammate and his family as his support team and cheering section in Wyoming.

Walker hopes to compete in rodeo professionally after he graduates from high school and feels he’s building experience to compete at that level.

“You have to be very confident in yourself,” he said.

  • Name: Dylan Marks
  • Age: 18
  • School: Portales High
  • Rodeo event: Steer wrestling

Marks says it’s hard to convince this generation to get into steer wrestling but he’s at peace when he’s rolling around with a 600-pound steer.

A native of Pennsylvania, Marks says his mother competed in barrel racing when she was younger and she took him to a lot of amateur rodeo competitions as a child.

“It just kind of took off from there,” Marks said. “It’s a passion, you meet a lot of people, you make connections. Everyone’s just one big family, I think that’s the one unique thing about it.”

For being 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Marks says steer wrestling is all about technique but historically people who competed were known to be bigger guys.

“They call it the big man event but I’m nearly 150 pounds and I steer wrestle pretty good, I think,” Marks said. “You have to be limber.”

Marks says he will study mechanical engineering at University of Nevada in the fall, but says it was the rodeo team that attracted him to the school. He’s hoping he can make a career out of rodeo.

“I love it,” he said. “I want to do it all my life, but you’ve got to do something to pay the bills.”

  • Name: Koby Lovett
  • Age: 18
  • School: Elida High
  • Rodeo event: Calf roping

Lovett says he channels one of professional rodeo’s youngest competitors, Tuf Cooper, when he’s riding his horse.

“He’s won two world titles, I want to be just like him,” Lovett said.

Lovett says he’s been in love with rodeo since he could pick up a rope. It was his goal his senior year to get himself and his horse Sir Cash into the rodeo finals.

“It’s a great feeling that two of the four calf ropers are from Roosevelt County this year,” Lovett said.

He also plans to pursue a degree in agriculture at ENMU in hopes of it opening more doors to rodeo.

Lovett says he always prays right before he competes and it helps him make his runs smooth.

He feels rodeo has contributed to his growth as a person and hopes he’ll be able to do it forever.

“It’s made me a better person because it taught me I have to work at something to reach my goals,” he said.

Lisa Walker: Courtesy photo Teens from Roosevelt County are competing in the National High School Rodeo Finals this week in Wyoming. They are representing New Mexico and Roosevelt County in the events of calf roping, cutting and steer wrestling. From left to right are Dylan Marks, Koby Lovett, Will Watts and Joshua Walker.

Lisa Walker: Courtesy photo
Teens from Roosevelt County are competing in the National High School Rodeo Finals this week in Wyoming. They are representing New Mexico and Roosevelt County in the events of calf roping, cutting and steer wrestling. From left to right are Dylan Marks, Koby Lovett, Will Watts and Joshua Walker.

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