Heeler JR Gonzales is wading through the Resistol Rookie of the Year field with the wisdom of a roper years older, partnered with 2018 NFR-qualifying header Bubba Buckaloo and riding gelding “ASAP,” with whom he came up through the ranks with.
Gonzales, 20, is currently sitting No. 3 in the Resistol Rookie of the Year heeling race with $34,440.
“This year has been pretty good,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been very blessed with a lot of opportunities and been able to go to a lot of places. I’m glad I’m doing this with Bubba because he’s taught me a lot of things. It’s been a learning experience with ups and downs.”
Gonzales’ partner, Kingston Oklahoma’s NFR header Bubba Buckaloo has been a man of few words alongside Gonzales on the road, but when he speaks, it’s worth listening.
“This first big rodeo I ever competed in was Austin this year, and I didn’t do my job,” Gonzales recalled. “I was really upset, and Bubba said, ‘If you let this one overcome you, how are you going to overcome the rest?’ It’s been a lot of forgetting the losses. I always heard guys talk about the mind game of rodeo, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s easy to let your demons overcome you out here.”
In July, Buckaloo and Gonzales advanced to the short round at Cheyenne Frontier Days, winning a total of $10,050 per man. Gonzales did it riding 10-year-old gelding “ASAP,” who he and his dad Juan trained together.
JR Gonzales’ special horse
Grade, sorrel, drawn-up and generally scruffy ASAP came to the Gonzales family as a yearling. Gonzales’ dad, Juan, purchased the horse for $1,200 with the intention to train him up a little as a head horse and sell him. ASAP, though, failed to grow to his expected height and, at 14-years-old, Gonzales took over the reins.
“He wasn’t taught to be a fancy horse,” Gonzales said. “He doesn’t stop when you sit down or put your legs forward—it’s when you ask him with your hand or throw your rope. He’s very simple.”
But ASAP’s career didn’t start easily. Gonzales recounted the horse’s inability to make a nice corner, cutting to the inside and occasionally knocking steers down. At one point, he fractured Gonzales’ toe while running into a steer.
“Come 2017, when he was about 4, I was almost ready to give up on him,” Gonzales said. “We’d been bumping heads together for years.”
The turning point came in 2018, when Gonzales was competing in an AJRA in Stephenville, Texas.
“It was 38 degrees, the saddle was about five inches off his back, and I didn’t know how he would take the pressure,” Gonzales said. “It was a youth rodeo, and it felt like a lot of pressure. We ended up No. 2, and that’s when I started thinking he would make a horse.”
Gonzales said the reason he kept going with the horse was ASAP’s incremental improvements and his ability to hit another gear coming out of the box.
“After that initial hard stage, he got better every steer,” Gonzales said. “And it wasn’t all his fault either. I didn’t ride the best; I didn’t use my feet or my left hand as well as I do now. It was a progression, together.”
“ASAP’s not a six-figure horse, and he’s not a futurity horse. But I think he’s a good horse for me because I know what he’s going to do every single time and he reads the play as well as I do. He played a big part in what I am today.”– JR Gonzales
Gonzales credits his “two feet every time” mentality to his dad, Juan, who encouraged him to track the steer for as long as it took to get a clean shot.
“My dad always told me if I wanted to get better, I had to be consistent,” Gonzales said. “We had a lot of late-night practices, and I thank my dad a lot because he’s the one who pushed me. Because of him, my mentality is: Let’s say you try to crossfire a steer and he gets in tow, and he takes one more hop before you can get your slack right and dally; if you take one more swing at the corner and heel him second hop and finish strong, I think you’re liable to be as fast as you were if you threw in the corner.”
New places and a new horse
Up next for Gonzales is the Horse Heaven Roundup Rodeo in Kennewick, Washington, the Gem State Stampede in Coeur D’Alene, and the Ellensburg Rodeo in Washington before he and Buckaloo fly back to Oklahoma to compete in a circuit rodeo.
And he’s doing it with a new horse in his trailer: Brye Crites’ 11-year-old CT Stylish Rex, known as “Cherry.”
“In the beginning, I had a rough time getting used to Cherry, but I knew if I could just get my hand on him, it would help me in the long run because I’ve seen that horse go a lot, and he’s a good one,” Gonzales said. “I was honored when Brye offered him to me, and I knew I needed to jump on him. Riding him is like you’ve been driving a ’99 Ford for 10 years and then you get in a 2023. He’s got cruise control and power steering.”
With Steady Eddie ASAP and hotrod Cherry in his string, Gonzales is prepared to continue learning the rodeo ropes.
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