By Mickey Winfield: Freedom Newspapers
Rodeo is a family affair for Lovington native and current Zia Raelyn Gardner. Both of Raelyn’s parents participated in the sport, and both did so at Eastern New Mexico University.
During her time at ENMU, Raelyn’s mom attended the College National Finals twice, and her dad also made the event.
“My mom is very tough and competitive,” Raelyn said. “It was something I was just raised into. I had a choice, but there was really no other option (than to rodeo).”
Gardner, now a senior at ENMU, competed over the weekend in the College “Daze” Rodeo at Lewis Cooper Arena in Portales. Gardner competes in barrel racing, goat tying and breakaway roping.
While her mother, boyfriend and both sets of grandparents were on hand to cheer her on, Raelyn’s dad, Frank Gardner, was busy with his own rodeo over the weekend, team-roping in Abilene.
“He dropped eight years of team-roping to haul me (around) and he just picked it back up and he’s doing really good,” Raelyn said. “They just called me and told me that he won the roping so I was pretty excited for him.”
According to Raelyn’s mom, Anna Gardner, her daughter has been at rodeos since she was little and she’s always done her own thing.
“She’s kinda blazin’ her own path,” Anna said. “She’s not following in anybody’s footsteps.”
To Raelyn, rodeo is much more than getting a good score or the top time.
“Ever since I could remember, my parents have hauled me and it’s all about family,” Raelyn said. “We’re on the road together, we haul together, my parents are my number one coaches and number one supporters.”
But you can trace the family’s love of the sport long before Raelyn’s parents.
“I know for sure that my great-grandparents were in (rodeo),” Raelyn said. “It goes right down the line.”
Despite the family’s proud tradition of rodeoing there was never any pressure to perform.
“That was one thing my parents told me, that I didn’t have to live up (to what they did). Just do the best I can, and whatever places I get then it’s great,” Raelyn said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
And roping and racing isn’t just contained to her immediate family either.
“I’m dating a guy who is a roper,” Raelyn said.
Growing up in Lovington, Raelyn had several good sources of information about rodeo, and she took advantage of it.
“I have so many people up there that helped me,” Raelyn said. “When it came to roping, my dad was my No. 1 coach, but he could take me to somebody like (roping greats) Roy Cooper or Phillip Berry or Bill Grey or Jimmy Cooper and they were more than willing to help me in whatever I needed.”
Raelyn said she’s interested in rodeoing professionally, but if that doesn’t happen, she’s happy just spending time with her family.
“Maybe (I’d like to go) pro eventually,” Raelyn said. “If not, family is a real big thing with me.”
“(I have) a very supportive family. If you don’t have the support, than you don’t need to go and I have a lot of support and I appreciate that.”