Gabby Watson of Marysville rounds a barrel atop her horse “Gambler’s Rose” during a barrel race. Watson made a return trip to the National High School Rodeo Finals in Wyoming this year.
Gabby Watson fell in love with riding a horse at an early age
When she was just eight-years-old, Watson took lessons at a farm down the road from her home.
Since that time, the Marysville High School senior has “found a love for horses.”
“My mom decided that she was going to take me for lessons. We then found this horse, Lilly, that I started showing for 4-H,” said Watson. “I thought ‘this is amazing.’”
That love has taken her all over the country to compete in the National High School Rodeo Association.
This year, she made it to the national finals in Wyoming.
Watson, a barrels and poles rider, was one of only four from Ohio to make it to nationals in barrel racing.
According to Watson, national High School Rodeo Association participants compete in local events and earn points for placement in those events.
Those points allow them to go to a state rodeo and placement there qualifies them for the national event.
Watson took third place at the Ohio rodeo finals.
This year, however, did not mark her first go-around at nationals.
She qualified for the rodeo in her first year on the circuit, where she took a barrowed horse to Tennessee.
Watson said that initial experience gave her the determination to return to the national level.
“I competed and it didn’t go as I wanted it to,” she said. “However, I made it in two events and it was quite amazing.
“That helped give me the drive.”
That drive sparked Watson to a national time of 18.206 for 15th place and a ride of 18.893 for 19th place during her two barrel rides.
She placed 93rd overall.
Although Watson has found success riding western-style in rodeos, it took her several horses in a variety of activities to find her niche.
“We bought Lola and she was the horse that was going to make my dreams come true… showing at the Quarter Horse Congress and at worlds,” said Watson.
Lola, though, developed problems in her withers, the place where the horse’s neck and back meet.
That prevented her from being ridden any longer.
“The vet at OSU said she has crushed and bulging discs, so they decided to take the horse to study it at Cornell,” she said.
The loss of Lola prompted Watson to try English riding, where she purchased Forrest, a hunter class horse.
Hunter horses are judged on numerous things from the way they jump over obstacles to how they look while competing.
After a fall while competing in the hunter class, Watson purchased Rio to start her journey in barrel riding.
“He (Rio) and I didn’t work well together, so we decided to take a break from each other,” Watson said. “I rode a couple of different barrel horses in between and then I bought Gray, my new horse, about a year ago. She is the one that helped me get to nationals.”
The jump to western riding was something that also came after Watson’s frustration with equestrian riding.
“I stopped showing pleasure and stopped riding hunter horses because you are paying for an opinion and that opinion varies,” she said. “So it is kind of hard to perfect the horse and yourself off what someone has to say.
“Barrel racing is just a time.”
Watson now has one more year of eligibility in the High School Rodeo Association and plans to expand her involvement in the sport.
“I have been goat-tying and I would like to start breakaway roping in my senior year,” she said.
With time running short in high school rodeo, Watson said her plans are to develop relationships so she can maintain her involvement in the sport once she has moved on.
“The point of high school rodeo is to go to nationals and make connections,” she said. “Those connections would be necessary for me to have a good reputation. If someone wants me to train their horse on the side, they know I am a good enough rider to do that.”
When she isn’t training horses, Watson will be working in the classroom at Hobart Institute of Welding Technology.
That’s a trade school in Troy where she plans on taking a 38-week course to become proficient in pipe welding.
“After high school I plan on going to Hobart welding school,” she said. “That job will allow me to travel and have time to ride some horses on the side and still make money.”
Until then Watson just wants to ride horses.
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