Thursday, March 23, 2017

Riding Broncs: An interview with Nolan Gillies

Nolan Gillies tacking up.

Riding Broncs: An interview with Nolan Gillies
As seen in the February 2017 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.

“I try to just stay positive and find good things I do in every ride, even when I make mistakes.” Nolan Gillies

Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, Nolan Gillies is a cowboy… a rodeo cowboy. He is a student at Boise State University and a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. He spurs on in the rodeo circuit, gaining accolades for his rodeo rides, including second place Silver State Reserve Champion. He has broken his wrist, with other bumps and bruises along the way, but keeps his form and confirmation in the saddle – arm back, toes out, squared up!

Welcome Nolan…

GM: When was your first encounter with a horse?
NG: That's kind of a funny story. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my family moved out to a little town in eastern Idaho called Teton. We were originally from Boise. All I ever did was play video games and read when I was a kid until I was 14. We had about two acres of pasture in our yard we never used, and some people who lived in town were riding their horses around town when they stopped at our house and asked if they could lease the pasture from us to keep their horses. We ended up letting them keep the horses there free of charge, and in return, they taught me how to ride. The first horse I rode was a beautiful palomino they called May, and eventually the guy that owned him ended up selling her to us. From that day on, that horse and I were partners. Most of what I learned about riding came from her, and she was my first buck off as well. 

GM: What is it like to be a PRCA Bareback Rider?
NG: It's surreal. For so long it felt like an unobtainable dream. I'm at the very bottom of the totem pole right now, I didn't win any money in the PRCA last season, everything I won came from amateur rodeos this year, but it's still been an awesome experience competing with the guys I've looked up to for so long, and it's even more incredible that a lot of my friends from high school are also riding at that level, so I've bumped into a lot of them down the road too. It's definitely rough, but I love it, and my failures from last season are only pushing me to drive on harder.

GM: What has been the most rewarding event/ride of your career?
NG: I think my most memorable experience in rodeo so far was my first round ride at the Silver State International Rodeo in Winnemucca, Nevada, back when I was in high school. I qualified for that rodeo by placing in the top ten in my state, and I drew this pretty decent sized colt from Four Star Rodeo Company. I remember him having a yellow and white coat, and he was pretty electric in the chute. I remember watching everyone ahead of me get bucked off, and I knew I had to find some iron in my heart if I was going to do any good there that week. When the chute opened, that horse took a short scoot out into the middle of the arena, and I held my feet through his run, then he reared up, and I reached up as far as I could with my feet, and had to hold on for dear life as he came dropping down. I almost was thrown right over the front of him, but somehow, I managed to push my hips and upper body back, and keep flailing with my feet just trying to stay on. I ended up taking the lead in the round with the hardest earned low score of 58 points I've ever acquired in my life. I ended up getting beat out the next day by one point, but that ride was still one of my greatest in my opinion. I missed winning the rodeo by just a handful of points, and it was the closest I had come to winning a championship title. 

GM: There are several techniques to riding a bronc, which do you use?
NG: I've personally changed my technique a lot through the years. My first few years in high school, I tried to emulate Royce Ford by pushing my free arm straight back and being really flashy with my feet, then as a senior I got a little more conservative, and stayed tighter with my upper body and my feet, which ended up working really well for me for a short time. After that, I don't know if growing made it harder for me to ride that way or something, but I always tip into my hand, so I've decided to change my style this year, and I'm currently in the process of changing my technique to ride more like Wilderness Circuit Finalist Morgan Wilde, who tends to lean a little bit away from his hand. I figure if I can stay a little more away from my hand, that will compensate for me going into my hand all the time, and keep me more square. Rodeo is a game of trial and error, and sometimes what worked for you before, will just all of a sudden stop working for you. It can be really frustrating.

GM: Describe your daily routine... 
NG: I'm on a workout regimen my older brother set up for me. He has a certification in personal training, and he has me on a workout that consists of light weights and a lot of repetitions for three days, and then heavy weights and a lower amount of repetitions the next two days, and every day I do a cardio and ab workout as well. I also try to spend at least 45 minutes on my spurboard every day. Some days it gets hard because I am also working and going to school, but I typically find time to train. The winter drives me insane because in the Northwest, there aren't very many places to practice, and there aren't a whole lot of rodeos during the winter, so I rely on my spurboard to stay tuned up until things pick back up in the Spring.

GM: Traveling on the rodeo circuit must be grueling. How do you cope with the physical as well as mental demands of being on the road and maintaining your success?
NG: Staying in shape all year is key to remaining healthy during the season. I've had some injuries that require me to tape a little differently than some guys, and I also have to wear a compression sleeve on my elbow, but just staying in shape and knowing your limits is key, and I don't even go as hard as some guys. Because of work and school, I'm pretty much limited to rodeoing on the weekends. The mental aspect is hard, especially when you're going through a slump. I just try and stay focused, and I will never give up, no matter how bad things are going. I try to just stay positive and find good things I do in every ride, even when I make mistakes, and just build off of the positive things. If I'm doing bad in the pros, I'll duck out and enter a few amateur rodeos, win some money, and build my confidence back up. That was one lesson that I learned from Heath Ford, it's never a bad thing to dip into a lower level of competition to better yourself. Don't be afraid to hit a practice pen or an amateur rodeo if you need to build confidence.

GM:  Have you ever met a horse you couldn't ride?
NG: I don't like to think of any horse as impossible to ride, but there have been a few horses that I've matched up with on multiple occasions that always have put me on the ground. One horse in particular I can think of is Storm Cloud of Summit Pro Rodeo. She's this big grey brood mare that J.D. Hamaker has that's been to the Mountain State Circuit Finals a few times. I drew her for the first time in the short round of a college rodeo in Lamar, Colorado. I remember marking her out and holding my feet for her first two jumps, and then after the third, she got really, really, really, strong, and stretched my arm out, and I front flipped right over the top of her. I think I made it all of 3 or 4 seconds on that horse. I had her again at a private rodeo in Denver a few months later, and the exact same thing happened. She's an honest bucking horse, but just harnesses an immense amount of power and strength. My goal is to become strong enough to handle a horse just as strong or stronger than her.

GM: Where is your favorite arena? Why is it your favorite?
NG: I think my favorite arena I've been to so far is at the Copper Spring Ranch in Bozeman, Montana. It's just such a beautiful ranch, and that arena has a very old western saloon type feel to it. It has a western style bar, and it's just a really clean facility. Most indoor arenas smell awful, but this one is very top notch. The rodeo was a short three-day series with a pretty modest amount of money added for a pro rodeo, but it was an experience I'll never forget, and I plan on going back there next Fall. Hopefully this time for the whole three days.

GM: There are many who believe that bronc riding is inhumane and difficult for the horse. What are your views?
NG: I think a lot of this belief stems from the lack of education the average person has on rodeo animals. When you have interest groups like PETA spreading propaganda more than we are promoting our own sport, it's no wonder that people have such a poor image of the sport. I don't think the sport is inhumane, but it definitely can be rough. People don't understand that the average bucking horse is a lot stronger, more muscular, and bigger than your average pasture pet, or pleasure riding horse. If you've ever felt a bucking horse's neck, it's pure muscle. Comparing a bucking horse with someone's pet horse would be like putting Arnold Schwarzenegger next to Michael Moore. These horses are bred, and trained from the time they are colts to buck. There actually is a certain amount of training that goes into a bucking horse. A lot of times a contractor will buck them out as yearlings and two year olds with dummies on their backs. Broncs don't typically get a rider on their backs until they're about 4-5 years old and are fully developed, and know what their job is. There are contractors who just flat out don't touch their horses, and even abuse them, but they are the exception rather than the norm. Bad people exist in every aspect of horsemanship, not just in rodeo. For every instance of abuse you find in rodeo, you can find something equally bad in Dressage, Cutting, or even just someone that owns a horse as a pet. The majority of stock contractors take excellent care of their horses, and they have a bond like no other with their animals. As a competitor, I can tell you that we have a lot of respect for the horses as well. They are how we make our living. It's in our own best interest to take care of the animals. We tend to have a rapport with the horses though, especially because you tend to see a lot of the same horses as you travel down the road more.

GM: Do you have advice for new riders and those looking to purchase their first horse?
NG: My advice is find a pro in your area, and pick their brains for all of the knowledge they have. Have them help you set up your bareback riggings, let them teach you proper technique, and listen to their stories. You can learn a lot by other peoples' mistakes and experiences. Most of all, find a way to conquer your fear. Don't ever let fear get in the way of you accomplishing your goals. With the right attitude, physical fitness, and help, anyone can be a great bareback rider. It's all up to you how far you want to go in this sport.

As far as purchasing your first horse, that's a hard one for me. I would say buy a horse that you have a bond with. Spend some time with a horse before you buy them, and always see for yourself how a horse is before making the purchase. A lot of people in the market will lie about what a horse is, how well trained they are, etc. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you buy one, and make sure you have the proper facility and knowledge to keep one. Horses are hard work!

GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
NG: Horsemanship to me is establishing a bond between you and a horse. Being able to communicate and work WITH a horse is something few people can do, but once you establish that level of trust and camaraderie with a horse, there's no feeling quite like it. It's not about taking command of the horse, it's about making them want to follow you and trust you. I don't consider myself an expert horseman, but I've found the horses I can establish a foundation of trust and friendship with, tend to be the horses I work best with.

Stay connected with Nolan and follow his standings at Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Gina McKnight is a freelance writer and author, Ohio, USA.

Nolan Gillies at work.

No comments: