With the National Junior High Finals Rodeo underway this week in Perry, Ga., Valencia County fans have plenty of cowboys and cowgirls to cheer on.
That includes 12-year-old bull rider, Lane Valenzuela, of Belen, who is making a second appearance at the NJHFR.
“I like everything about it,” Valenzuela said of his sport. “Friends, going places, that kind of stuff. It feels good.”
Valenzuela, who was scheduled to compete Wednesday, likens the NJHFR to a vacation.
“There’s so much stuff to do there,” including fishing and games.
Like many young bull riders, Valenzuela tried riding sheep to start.
“We took him to the Valencia County Fair to get on the sheep one year and he cried his eyes out,” Lane’s mother, Cathy Valenzuela recalled. “I think he only rode two sheep in his life.”
But a family trip to Las Vegas, Nev., during the National Finals Rodeo changed his perspective.
“They had a miniature bull riding, so when he saw that, he said, ‘I want to do that.’ We came home and bought some practice bulls,” Cathy said. “We had one. Then five. Now, we have like 40.”
All those bulls led to plenty of practice opportunities for Lane, who is home-schooled. Lane gets pointers from his father, Ruben, a former bull rider himself.
Lane also uses a bucking barrel to sharpen his skills and “we do workouts, sit-ups, pushups,” Lane adds. The regimen has helped Lane calm any nerves when climbing on the bull.
“I’m just telling myself, have confidence — I don’t get scared of the animals,” he said. “I could get hurt but I just don’t think about it.”
Mom tries not to think about it either.
“It used to make me really nervous but we do this almost every weekend, so now I’ve kind of settled into the groove,” Cathy said. “He’s worked really hard to learn the skills to keep as safe as possible.”
The dynamic for the Valenzuela family, including siblings, Lacy and Luciano, revolves around the rodeo arena.
“It’s part of our life that we live and breath. It’s constant — we spend quite a bit of time, money and energy on training,” Cathy explains, including sending Lane to get instruction from professional bull riders.
“I think you’re going to spend money on your kids one way or another. So, I think you have to do what they’re passionate about,” Cathy believes.
“If I wasn’t paying it in bull riding entry fees, I’ll probably end up paying it in bail money later,” Cathy joked. “He’s a real good kid, but we’ve got to keep him busy doing something.”
Valenzuela is not the only New Mexican competing at the NJHFR. Each state sends as many as four qualifiers per event, and Valencia County is well represented with Valenzuela and six others: Eva Chavez of Tomé, goat tying; Haxton and Holt Haynes, of Los Lunas, team roping; Belen’s Magdalena Hazle, breakaway roping; Daniel Jackson, of Belen, bull riding; and Peralta cowboy Dax Sullivan, ribbon roping, tie-down roping and goat tying.
Valenzuela was successful riding his two bulls on Wednesday. In the morning round, Valenzuela scored a 57.5 to finish 12th and in the night session a 64 put him 6th for the round.
More results can be found at nhsra.com.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.