Roy teen excels in high school state rodeo finals

Emma Gulley heads to Iowa for nationals next week


Emma Gulley, the Northwest Junior Rodeo Association (NJRA) princess, competed in team roping, goat tying, breakaway roping and ribbon roping at the 2024 Washington State High School Rodeo state finals in Moses Lake from May 23 through May 27.

Gulley, 14, of Roy, was awarded a number of year-end awards, including Washington State Reserve Champion All-Around Cowgirl in the junior high division, second-place for team roping, a saddle and buckle for ribbon roping, and the state finals buckle for ribbon roping.

“It means a lot to me because there’s so much prep that goes into it. All year, that’s what you’re going for,” said Gulley, who is homeschooled. “You’re practicing every day, and to see that you won, it shows that the work paid off.”

She now gets the opportunity to travel to Des Moines, Iowa, to compete in team roping in the 2024 National Junior High Finals Rodeo at the Iowa State Fairgrounds from June 23 to June 29. This will be her first time traveling for nationals, although she qualified for the state finals in ribbon roping but couldn’t attend because her partner wasn’t able to go.

“It’s very important to me to go to nationals because this is my eighth grade year, so this is the last chance that I get to go to junior high nationals,” Gulley said.

Gulley, who is one of 22 athletes from Washington heading to Iowa for nationals, said the big stage is a lot to think about, but she aims to continue her same training and build confidence in herself.

“You just have to know that you have a place there and you can be competitive, but just get your practice in. Don’t stress about it because it’s just another roping,” she said. “You can’t change anything. I try to keep the practice the same because of my horse. I try not to overwork her because she is very important to me.”

Gulley entered the rodeo world just three years ago at the age of 11, and she is proud of the growth she has made, especially with the pressure that comes from being the NJRA princess.

“I think I’ve grown a lot in a short amount of time. I have such a huge support system, and it would not be possible without them whatsoever,” Gulley said. “I feel a lot more confidence going into the junior rodeo season.”

Her mother, Carrie, described herself as “one proud mama” as she has watched her daughter grow through the rodeo world and work toward bigger stages.

“She just has taken charge, and with us going to Iowa, she’s making sure that everything that she’s responsible for is taken care of. She’s doing a pretty good job of balancing it all,” she said. “We’re constantly being pulled in all kinds of different directions, and she’s meeting the task. She does the work and she definitely wants it. She’s willing to do anything that she needs to do to be able to achieve what she’s trying to do.”

Carrie also described her daughter as a “self-motivated” teenager, which Emma Gulley said is in large part due to the people around her. She works during the week with Josh Sleeman, a cutting horse trainer who is in the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame, and is witness to the fruits of his hard work.

“He is a very motivated person, so getting to see that and watching hard work and how it pays off, it’s like, ‘Wow, if you really work for it, you can have it,’” Emma Gulley said. “It’s so fun, and it’s really rewarding when you get to win. That’s motivating.”