Opinion Columns & Blogs

This filly can fly: 8-year-old barrel racer rides like a pro

Chelsea Rogell, 8, of Creston rides Casper during a barrel racing competition at Paloma Creek Equestrian Arena in Atascadero.
Chelsea Rogell, 8, of Creston rides Casper during a barrel racing competition at Paloma Creek Equestrian Arena in Atascadero. jmellom@thetribunenews.com

Unlike sports such as football or baseball, rodeo has its roots in practical, real-life applications. From saddle bronc riding to steer wrestling to team roping, these are rodeo events that originated out of a cattle rancher’s necessity in dealing with livestock.

And, in rodeo, it is all a matter of timing — or, more accurately, being timed against fellow competitors to finish in the money. For example, bull riding is called “the fastest eight seconds in sports.” If you don’t hang on for that amount of time, ehhhhhnnnk! You lose.

Barrel racing and other Gymkhana events such as poles and Hurry Scurry are just about as head-snapping quick. And that brings us to Chelsea Rogell, a freckle-faced 8-year-old from Creston who’s been riding roughshod over girls twice her age in West Coast Junior Rodeo Association and California Gymkhana Association AAA competition.

As it turns out, the emergence and honing of Chelsea’s equestrian skills are equal amounts nature and nurture. Her mother, Michelle Rogell, née Scobie, was born and raised on the Scobie family’s Parkfield ranch. As such, she began riding at an early age. When Michelle got older, she competed in Gymkhana and barrel racing through high school and college.

She then took a decade break from the rodeo circuit, working horses for Jack and Phoebe (Hearst) Cook, before competitively riding again — this time with Chelsea by her side. As it turns out, this colt didn’t foal far from her mare.

Born at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton and raised on the family’s 8-acre Creston ranch, Chelsea was riding before she entered kindergarten, starting on a horse named Daisy, then another called Unicorn, before she settled on her current ride, a little paint called Casper, a barely broken horse they found on a lady’s ranch outside Paso Robles.

Michelle trained him, rode him in competition, and then handed the reins over to Chelsea, who’s ridden him in competition for four years.

As any horseman or woman (or 8-year-old rider for that matter) will readily admit, the right ride in rodeo can literally make the difference between winner’s circle and also-ran.

Toward that end, there are several qualities a rider looks for in a Gymkhana competitor: quarter horse speed, cutting horse agility and a quality that’s difficult to quantify that involves not only physical training but also an almost mystical relationship between hearts and minds of rider and horse. It seems that Chelsea and Casper have, well, all the horses when it comes to that trifecta.

For their part, Chelsea and Casper have taken their talents to the California Mid-State Fair and Pioneer Days Gymkhanas, as well as dozens of other sanctioned events, running in the CGA’s AAA division to second and third finishes in poles and barrels against 40 to 50 other competitors on a regular basis.

Although Chelsea competes in a variety of events (Hurry Scurry, for example, involves racing down an arena twice and making six jumps in the process), barrels and poles events have brought home the honors, ribbons — and a hand-tooled saddle from a King City competition.

Picture this: A 4-foot tall, 70-pound Chelsea mounts 1,300-pound Casper, and they tear around three barrels set out in a cloverleaf pattern — one right turn and two lefts on the first pass, one left and two rights on the second — as her ponytail flies from beneath her helmet, shaving precious seconds off the clock by bending into the barrels as closely as possible without knocking them over. It’s an exquisite ballet: burst of speed, almost a stop-on-a-dime turn, then another G-force burst of speed. Chelsea’s laser-determined winning times are around 19 seconds. Timing is everything.

In the final tally, Chelsea’s outstanding achievements aren’t that much of a mystery. As she gets ready to enter third grade this fall, she’s a well-rounded kid who’s been lovingly nurtured by Michelle, brother Ryan and father Jay. Her dad is a building contractor, tool inventor and foreman for Mountain Cascade Inc., a position that takes him away from home for months at a time with weekend commutes back to hearth and family.

If Norman Rockwell were to take a peek into their lives, he’d find a hardworking father and mother; a 16-year-old son and brother who labored to buy his own car; a sister and daughter who’s not only competitive in the arena but also a cowgirl who has a great imagination and finds outlets in art and writing, a love of ducks and goats, bouncing on her trampoline and dreaming of being a rodeo queen and veterinarian one day.

Steps toward those dreams, though, take not only an investment of time but also costs in entry fees and travel. Toward that end, Chelsea could use a financial angel or two to help broaden her horizons on the Gymkhana circuit. If she sounds like a blue chip in which you’d like to invest, she can be reached at:

Chelsea Rogellc/o Jay and Michelle Rogell3501 Stage Springs RoadCreston, CA 93432

Reach Bill Morem at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.