News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters youth is a rodeo champion

Gabby Bartolotta of Sisters rode her 7-year-old quarter horse Jess to a state championship in pole bending in Oregon Junior High Division Rodeo competition in Burns May 28-30. The 14-year-old rodeo champ is headed to nationals in Des Moines, Iowa, June 20-27.

Pole bending is a timed event in which the horse and rider run a weaving course between six poles set up in a line — similar to a slalom course in skiing.

Bartolotta’s championship came down to the last go-round.

“I was doing pretty good,” she said. “Me and this other girl were neck-and-neck. It was really close. If I’d have knocked a pole, I’d have been out of it.”

A clean, fast run gave her the title.

In the championship crunch, success often comes down to managing nerves. That’s something Gabby knows how to do.

“That’s the main thing, no matter what,” she said. “And be happy with your horse no matter what.”

It’s the love and connection between horse and rider that forms the foundation of the sport for Bartolotta. It’s a passion she discovered on her own.

“It’s her,” said her mom Julie. “It’s her passion; her journey.”

“I’ve been around horses all my life,” Gabby said, “but I just got into rodeo six years ago, seven years ago... It’s just the bond, the connection with your horse. It’s hard to explain.

“She matches my energy. Whenever I’m having a bad day, she’s having a bad day… When I’m having a good day, she’s the best horse ever.”

Jess is just one of 17 horses Gabby cares for, some of them rescues. She comes home from school and gets to work, often putting five or six hours of riding to build her skills.

“I ride every day, and I take really good care of my horses,” she said. “I treat them like an athlete. I think my horses appreciate me for that.”

While rodeo is Gabby’s particular passion, success requires a lot of family support, which Gabby is quick to acknowledge. She offered a particular shoutout to her brother Nick.

“He stays awesome and super-supportive of me,” she said. “He’s the best brother ever.”

Julie Bartolotta confesses that competition is tougher on her than it is on her daughter. She admits to be “100 percent more nervous” watching from the stands than Gabby is in the saddle.

Gabby also qualified in breakaway roping and ribbon roping, which are actually her favorite events. Her roping horse is a six-year-old named Holly.

“I love roping so much,” she said.

Bartolotta is aiming for a slot on the elite Cal Poly San Luis Obispo rodeo team, and she has hopes of becoming a professional barrel racer or roper. Whatever the future holds, horses will be at the center of it.

“I want to stay with horses my whole life,” she said. “It’s just what I love to do.”

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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