Three GRIC members qualify for Indian National Finals Rodeo

Skye Joaquin

Skye Joaquin

The rodeo circuit can be tough. Every cowboy has a story and the scars to go with it. The men and women that live the rodeo life wouldn't have it any other way. Many cowboys have come and gone through the rodeo arenas searching for greatness. Some walk away beaten and lost in bitter defeat. Others triumph and taste championship glory.

Those precious championship moments come at a price.

Behind every bull ride are the countless bumpy hours of practice. Everyone sees the rope tossed in competition but no one sees the lone roper practicing well into the night.

For the athletes in the Indian rodeo circuit, all of their hard work is about to pay off. Riders, wrestlers, racers and ropers from Native American communities across the country are headed to the 37th Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) in Las Vegas.

These men and women will represent their communities from Nov. 6-10 and compete against tough opposition at the South Point Equestrian Complex.

This year three hardworking individuals will be representing the Gila River Indian Community. Fernando Walker, District 4, Wahlean Riggs, District 5 and Skye Joaquin, District 4, will pack up their saddles and head to Sin City. All three qualified with the Southwest Indian Rodeo Association (SWIRA) and were selected to participate in this year's INFR.

Walker, who is from the village of Goodyear, is a Year-End Qualifier for the Senior Team Roping. "To qualify for the Indian finals is really a blessing to me and my family," said Walker.

Team roping consists of two riders on horseback who rope a steer. The riders and the steers are released from chutes. One rider, called the header, ropes the steer's horns after which his partner, the heeler, ropes its hind legs. Walker is the heeler and his partner Ralph Romo (Ft. MacDowell Yavapai Nation) is the header.

Walker said he's been roping since 1972. He started roping again last year after a 15 year break. While back in the fold he renewed old friendships with pals from his former rodeo days.

The arenas felt like home again for Walker. "Just being there with my peers was good enough for me," he said.

Walker was building camaraderie with his counterparts and also building up points in the standings. He eventually qualified for the INFR. "To this day I still can't believe it. Every time I think about it I get chills down my spine," Walker said.

Another inspirational story heading into this year's INFR belongs to Wahlean "Bobbie" Riggs. She will be the first lady from Gila River to qualify for the INFR.

Riggs competes in breakaway roping. Horse mounted riders wait in a box until a calf is released from the chute. Once the calf runs out the chute, the rider attempts to lasso the neck.

Riggs, who lives in Wet Camp, started riding horses at eight years old. The roping came afterward. "I started learning how to breakaway rope later on in life," she said.

Riggs credits her relative, the late Lorenzo Smith, for giving her the encouragement to pursue roping. "He was the main person who was behind me all the way through," she said.

Riggs has been active on the rodeo scene for many years now but never qualified for the INFR. "For many years I have always tried to make the INFR. I always had that goal to make it there," she said.

At the SWIRA regional finals it all worked out for Riggs, and she won the Sudden Death spot.

Riggs recently included a wellness regimen to her routine. "I believe the wellness really had a lot to do with helping me," she said.

Riggs is proud to represent the Community and she shares her story with others. "I am encouraging you all here at home that dreams come true and when you have the dedication and desire, things fall into place with patience."

Joining Walker and Riggs is 14-year-old Skye Joaquin from Lower San Tan. The St. Peter's Indian Mission School eighth grade student is making a return trip to the INFR. "It's exciting to be going again," Joaquin said.

Last year Joaquin placed sixth in the Jr. Steer Riding event. "He's an up and coming steer rider and possibly a bull rider," said Walker of the youngest GRIC member in this year's INFR.

Joaquin may be young but he is not inexperienced. Joaquin said he's been riding for 10 years and he recently participated in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Gallup, N.M. Joaquin's older brother was in the National High School Finals Rodeo in bullriding. He is also a member of the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association.

Joaquin's parents, Albert Joaquin and Faye Yesk encourage him in the arena and the classroom. They hope their son excels in his education and is eligible for a rodeo scholarship. A scholarship would be a great way for the young man to keep up with his sport. "We know he is keeping his grades up," said Albert.
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