For Poteet resident Kelsey Gonzales, daughter of Leslie and Sammy Gonzales, what started out as riding horses on the ranch for pleasure, has spurred her on into the broader world of horse competition.
“My parents, along with growing up on a farm, helped fuel my aspiration to take up horse riding,” Gonzales said. “It also helped that I had the space to ride horses at home and, luckily, we had already owned a few ranch horses.”
She admits that at first she didn’t necessarily want to compete. Since around the age of 6, Gonzales had been content with riding horses with her dad on the ranch, but later began showing horses for 4-H. Though she doesn’t remember it, her mom tells her the first thing she said after her first show was, “When’s the next one?”
Yet, at this point, being on an equestrian team had still not even crossed her mind.
“From the moment I was born I was around all sorts of animals—cows, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, horses, etc.,” Gonzales said. “But, it was actually my sister who really ignited my spark for the equestrian sport.”
She remembers a conversation in the car one summer day when her mom agreed to her older sister’s request to take riding lessons. “It sounded fun,” Gonzales said, “and sounded like something I might really like, so I gave it a shot.”
Besides horse riding and showing, Gonzales has participated in numerous other endeavors. She showed broilers as an active member of the Mc- Mullen County Livestock Show and her 2019 Grand Champion broiler sold for $4,000. That same year, her golf team placed 10th at State and she won three reserve world champion titles at the American Junior Paint Horse Association World Championship Show.
Gonzales doesn’t let unexpected setbacks keep her from her goals. She recalls the time her horse had to be put down due to health issues, leaving her without a horse to show. After seeking advice from her trainer, he got her a temporary horse, a young mare named Miley, which she rode until 2019.
During this time Gonzales was learning more about and developing the skills needed to be on collegiate equestrian teams. She needed a horse strong in horsemanship and that’s when she found Ho- cus in 2020. Show horses cost quite a bit to maintain so she got a job as a bagger at H-E-B and worked as much as she could to make the $800 per month to lease the horse for a year, without financial help from her parents.
“Being so involved with all my extracurricular activities, along with working for H-E-B and being in high school and dual credit, can get incredibly challenging and exhausting, but the key really is time management,” Gonzales said. “Every month I write down my schedule for due dates, test dates, meeting times, work times and so much more. It really helps me plan ahead and helps me see what I need to be doing that month or week to stay on top of things. You really just need to pace yourself, especially when you feel overwhelmed.”
One of Gonzales’ galloping successes came when she entered the Extreme Mustang Makeover in 2016. In this competition wild horses, untouched by human hands, are rounded up by helicopter and loaded into trailers. An eighth grader at the time, Gonzales picked up her mustang Sky and the 120-day training began. On show day, she demonstrated that she could do such tasks as catch and load Sky into a trailer, pick up her feet and brush her, and showcased her many other new skills.
Gonzales is currently taking classes online through Texas Connections Academy at Houston, where she is a member of the National Honor Society and Student Council. She’s also involved in the American Paint Horse, American Quarter Horse and Texas Quarter Horse Associations.
“Till this day my whole family inspires me to keep doing what I love because without them, especially my parents, I would not have made it as far as I have in the horse show world nor would I be a D1 signee for college,” Gonzales said. “It really takes a village and I happen to have a pretty great one.”
After verbally committing to South Dakota State University at the end of 2020, she officially signed a letter of intent in February to compete in horsemanship for the Jackrabbit equestrian team in the 2021-2022 school year.
“After the completion of my first four years of pre-med at SDSU, I plan on attending med school in hopes to eventually become an obstetrician,” Gonzales said. “In the long run, I would really love to open my own OB-GYN practice.”