CLAIM TO FAME
This year, Zack Cargle, 13, was named the Georgia Junior High School All-Around Rodeo Champion. He has competed in about 200 rodeos. He has competed twice in the annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Gallup, N.M.
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To most children, telling them to take the bull by the horns is just another way of encouraging them to be self-starters. For Zack Cargle, 13, however, the phrase has a more literal meaning.
This year, Cargle is among the fastest in Georgia at chute dogging, a rodeo event in which cowboys wrestle bucking steers weighing hundreds of pounds to the ground, often in seconds.
After placing in the top four in chute dogging and four other rodeo events, Zack was named this year's Georgia Junior High School All-Around Rodeo Champion.
Horsemanship is a lifestyle in the Cargle family, and there's no place Zack said he feels more comfortable than in the saddle.
"I just love going fast," he said. "It's fun. I've been on horses when I was a baby, and mom and dad would lead me around."
Zack's father, Tommy Cargle, is a horse trainer who attended college on a rodeo scholarship. His mother, Vicki Cargle, started riding at age 6, showed Appaloosa horses throughout high school and, after she graduated, began barrel racing, an event his older sister has also picked up.
Even the family church, Brand of the Cross, meets in a Ringgold barn under the direction of a pastor with past ties to the rodeo.
Zack began competing at age 5. He has ridden on an almost weekly basis, roping and wrangling in about 200 rodeos over the last eight years. He has about 20 championship belt buckles and six trophy saddles, most of which he won in the last two years.
As one of the top junior cowboys in Georgia, Zack has traveled twice to Gallup, N.M., to compete in the annual National Junior Finals Rodeo against hundreds of riders from the United States, Australia and Canada. In 2010, he placed 11th in team roping and 15th in breakaway roping.
His grandparents, Gerry and Phil Begunich, said that while they are proud of their grandson's accomplishments, his skill with horses is no surprise, given the family history.
"We knew it was bound to be," Gerry Begunich said. "It's in all their blood. It's all they think about -- the horses."
Zack has been riding in exhibitions at professional rodeos during the two-month summer off-season, but as usual, he is eager to saddle up for the new season's first rodeo next month, Phil Begunich said.
"He is absolutely ready to go if you mention a horse," Begunich said. "He doesn't like to be away from them."
Zack began honing his cowboy skills by roping a wooden horse in the family's living room when he was just 18 months old. His father said he was surprised to see his son take to the sport at such a young age.
"That's all he thought about," Tommy Cargle said. "He played other sports, too, but they always came second. We tried not to push him, so he wouldn't get burnt out, but you never have to ask him to practice."
Zack spends about two hours a night riding several horses and drilling on roping skills -- only now with flesh-and-blood targets.
As long as he remains interested and approaches the sport with seriousness and diligence, there is no reason Zack won't be able to rise to the professional circuit, Cargle said.
"Most of your cowboys want to make the national finals; it's what they dream of," he said. "Very few ever make it, [but] ... he's got the potential."