Ride’em Cowgirl: Scotlyn Gelso the Barrel Racer

By: Hayden Alexander

Barrel Racing is one of many events that take place at a traditional American Rodeo. The sport made its debut in 1948 and was started by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association or WPRA for short. The WPRA was the first sports association to be created and run by women in the U.S.  and worked to ensure that cowgirls everywhere would have a place in the rodeo. Now 72 years later Jenks senior, Scotlyn Gelso is taking part in that legacy. 

A young Scotlyn Gelso riding horses. Photo Credit: Scotlyn Gelso

Scotlyn Gelso has been riding horses since she was a young girl. Gelso has competed in several rodeo events including English Riding, Pole Bending, Cattle Sorting, Breakaway, and of course Barrel Racing. 

“Horses have been an obsession of mine since I was little,” says Gelso. “I never grew out of the horse phase.” 

Gelso practicing for her next rodeo. Photo Credit: Van Tonder Photography

Even though Gelso has been riding for over a decade she has only been Barrel Racing for the past two years. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for a Barrel Race and Gelso practices a great deal in order to dominate the rodeo.

“When I practice for barrels it’s a lot of the basics,” says Gelso. “I have to make sure Reese will stop as soon as I ask or people could get hurt when I come out of the alley. I work on bending his body in a certain way to make going around the barrel as smooth as possible. Then after all the basics are fixed and looking good we move on to the pattern. We go through it slow at first to work in some details but then we get faster and faster just to get used to the speed that we have to do things at. After we run the pattern several times we go back to regular training stuff off of the barrel pattern because if all we do is run circles on the barrel pattern Reese will get bored and stop liking it and giving his all.” 

Reese is Gelso’s Barrel Racing horse. Gelso has one other horse, Willow, her first horse. Gelso has a strong bond with Willow and Reese who like most animals have an uncanny ability to understand when their human is in need of cuddles. Forming a relationship that transcends the boundaries of words. 

“They can tell when I am stressed out or upset and they will come up and comfort me,” says Gelso, “Being with them is super fun and it takes away all the struggles of daily life.”

Lots of practice? A good relationship with one’s horse? Now all Scotlyn needs is a rodeo. A typical rodeo can be big or small but is always bustling with activity.

“There are typically about 300 people there and 300 horses and 300 trailers,” says Gelso. “ It’s completely hectic.”

Men and women of all ages and levels compete in seven major events: Bareback Riding, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc, Tie-Down Roping, Bull Riding, and of course Barrel Racing. The Cowboys and Cowgirls compete for cash prizes comprised of the competitors’ entry fees and the highly coveted rodeo belt buckle, the highest award at the rodeo. 

“A belt buckle is a big ole hunk of metal that has the information of that race and what you placed,” says Gelso. “You have buckles so you can wear them and show them off.”

In order to win a buckle Gelso must first win a Barrel Race. The objective of Barrel Racing is to race around three barrels organized in a triangular shape as close as possible without knocking down the barrels. In Barrel Racing the fastest time wins. The rider and horse wait in the alley for their chance at a buckle. 

“My horse and I are both very anxious,” says Gelso. “You can feel how hard Reese’s heart is pounding because he is nervous, but he also loves it and he’s so excited. He wants to take off as soon as he sees the barrels so it’s kinda terrifying because he starts to rear up a little bit and try to lung forward. I have to hold him back because I don’t want him to race his energy. It is just a huge adrenaline rush. It’s just kind of terrifying and exciting all at the same time.” 

The racers are announced in turn order and line up in the alleyway to wait for their chance at victory. Gelso is filled with a mixture of elation and anxious anticipation as she waits for her turn. The announcer announces her name over the loudspeaker and it’s off to the races.

“Going through the pattern is absolutely exhilarating,” says Gelso. “It feels so fast when I’m going in between the barrels, but when I’m actually turning the barrels time seems to slow down.”

Scotland competing in Barrel Racing. Photo credit: Van Tonder Photography 

With the race over faster than it began, Gelso receives her winnings, which she puts right back into barrel racing, yet no buckle. In order to win the dazzling prize, you have to have the fastest time Gelso’s closest time thus far was .2 seconds away from victory. Never fear for Gelso may not have a buckle to go with her belt just yet, but she has no plans on giving up.

“I desperately want a buckle but I am still new at the sport and I have time to reach that goal, but the most important thing for me is to keep my horse healthy and to have a great time with friends and family,” says Gelso. 

After high school, Gelso plans on attending North Eastern Oklahoma University where she will join the rodeo team, play in the band, and prep for nursing school.

“I am taking my horses to NEO and I get to keep them on the campus which will be nice,” says Gelso. “I get to practice in their facilities and they will take me to races. I will get to be part of the school’s team which will be really fun because I will have a group that I am going with”

“I decided to go to NEO because they have an excellent equestrian program that I’m going to be a part of,” says Gelso. “I will be on the rodeo team. I am also going to be playing the trumpet in their band which will be fun.”

Gelso plans on joining the nursing program at NEO after a year in the band and rodeo circuit. 

“I want to go into nursing because almost everyone in my family is in the medical field,” says Gelso. “I just got my emergency medical responder license and can work on an ambulance and have. It’s so exciting and scary. Almost like barrel racing.”

Scotlyn and her horse Reese. Photo credit: Scotlyn Gelso

Although Gelso started Barrel Racing later than most, she took the sport by the reins and can now Barrel Race with the best of riders. Gelso didn’t let anyone get her down and plans on riding for the rest of her life. 

“I started barrel racing when I was 16 and a lot of people said I started at too old an age, but now I’m placing in the top five every now and then,” says Gelso. “It’s never too late to try something you’re passionate about.” 

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