Gymkhana teaches cowpokes the ropes

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For Steamboat Springs' cowboy Justin Wheeler, the annual summer Gymkhana series is a chance to have some fun and if everything goes well win a saddle.

"I've won a saddle the last two years and that's what I'm shooting for again this year," the 12-year-old Wheeler said during the June 30 competition at the Romick Arena.

He was just one of the local cowboys, and one of four members of the Wheeler family, who came to the arena for a rare Friday night competition.

The Gymkhana Club meets 10 times in the summer. Young riders and adults compete in barrels, flag, poles and stake racing events.

"I like doing it because I would rather ride horses than ride bikes it's just my natural instinct," Wheeler said.

He's been riding horses since he was 4 and has been competing in the local series since it started more than three years ago.

"I just think it's fun because I grew up with horses," Justin's younger brother, Colton, said. Colton won the pole bending event. He was also first in the stake race, second in the barrels and third in the flags at the June 30 event. Brother Justin was second in the barrels and first in the other three events. Sister Krystina won all four events.

For the Wheelers, the local series and gymkhana is a big part of summer vacation. In addition to the regular series, the family also travels to other ranches in the area that host individual events from time-to-time. They also go to regional shows that include competitions in the different events during the summer.

Justin, who attends a different show almost every weekend, is hoping his experience will someday lead to top finishes at the Little Britches level.

"This is a great experience," Justin said. "It's just so much fun ... I look forward to it every week."

The Steamboat Springs Gymkhana Club meets again tonight at the Romick Rodeo Arena. Registration begins at 6:30 p.m. and the competition starts at 7 p.m.

Participants are competing for season-long awards and weekly honors. There are several children's divisions, as well as adult classes, at the weekly club events.

The series was started and is run by Bonny McGeary as a option for ranching families to compete in local equestrian activities.

To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail him at jrussell@amigo.net

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