Bass living dream as barrel racing standings leader

Looking through the list of contestants who will enter the 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the top spot in the world standings, I couldn’t help but wonder about barrel racing leader Kaley Bass and what took her to the No. 1 position this year.

The Kissimmee, Fla., cowgirl is reserved and almost shy, humble and appreciative of the season she’s had, and I found her to be quite a delight during our phone chat. She has ridden a 14-year-old gray gelding named Wonders Cowboy Dan most of the season, and the talented steed was recently named the AQHA/WPRA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year as a reward for his prowess in navigating the cloverleaf pattern better than any other mount in 2014.

Kaley Bass and her AQHA/WPRA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Wonders Cowboy Dan have been awesome in 2014 so far.  --WPRA photo by Greg Westfall

Kaley Bass and her AQHA/WPRA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Wonders Cowboy Dan have been awesome in 2014 so far. –WPRA photo by Greg Westfall

Bass, 21, is on top of the world in more ways than one as she heads into Las Vegas leading the 15 best barrel racers on the planet.

“It’s just been an awesome year for my horse and I,” said Bass, who also qualified for the Wrangler NFR the last two years. “I couldn’t be any happier.”

The season didn’t look so promising for Bass and Cowboy early on, as she was 38th in the world before June 30. But that was before Cowboy Christmas.

WPRA world standings leader Kaley Bass

WPRA world standings leader Kaley Bass

Bass and her talented horse went wild during the weeklong extravaganza, banking an event-best $28,814 to vault to 15th in the world. From there, they just kept winning and winning and Bass’ goals changed from simply qualifying for the Wrangler NFR to chasing down the No. 1 spot.

“We started out slow, but my horse always does well in the summer,” she said. “I’ve never had a summer this good, though. I was just going to try and make the NFR and didn’t really care where (in the rankings) I was going in.

“After seeing how well my Cowboy Christmas went, I just decided to keep going. There was no point in stopping.”

Bass also rode a 6-year-old mare she bought at the beginning of the year named Wonders Moon Song at different times during the season, and those breaks helped Cowboy stay fresh and strong. The Floridian will enter this year’s Finals with $155,280, $23,809 more than second-place Fallon Taylor, and she admitted that keeping the No. 1 spot will be a nail-biting challenge.

“It will definitely be nerve-racking, but it’ll be fun,” said Bass, who has owned Cowboy for 11 years. “Already having been there (in Las Vegas) doesn’t make it as nerve-racking, and to be able to go at such a young age is really cool.”

But she feels confident in her four-legged dynamo and knows he will give her everything he has night after night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“On the horse I’m on, he makes it a lot easier for me, because I know him so well,” she said. “He’s pretty much the same every time and never does anything new, so it’s nice to get on a consistent horse that will take care of you.”

Kaley Bass, shown here in Omaha, Neb., earlier this year, will draw on her experience from the last two Wrangler NFRs as she guns for her first world title.  --WPRA photo by Greg Westfall

Kaley Bass, shown here in Omaha, Neb., earlier this year, will draw upon her experience from the last two Wrangler NFRs as she guns for her first world title. –WPRA photo by Greg Westfall

Bass will celebrate her 22nd birthday on Dec. 21, and she would love to give herself the gift of a gold buckle eight days earlier when the Wrangler NFR concludes.

“Everyone would like to win a world title,” Bass said. “That would be a great birthday present.”

Battered Kimzey trying to stay sharp before Finals

Sometimes, it’s tough being a bull rider.

Rookie world standings leader Sage Kimzey was reminded of that this past weekend, when a bull not-so-nicely stepped on his head at a CBR event in Mercedes, Texas. The 20-year-old Oklahoman has been enjoying a more relaxed October, where he’s been getting on a couple bulls a week to stay sharp, but definitely didn’t enjoy his recent run-in.

“I got stepped on the back of my head, chipped a few teeth and all sorts of good stuff,” said Kimzey, who leads the world standings with $143,165. “It was the full meal deal. I’ll definitely take some time off for this injury and let it heal up, but I’ll keep getting on bulls all the way up until the Finals.”

Kimzey plans to find a balance between resting and riding a bull or two each week for the remainder of October and November.

“I’ve just been getting on a few bulls a week and taking it easy until the NFR,” he said. “I want to be on top of my game whenever I get out there.”

Sage Kimzey leads the bull riding world standings heading into this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Sage Kimzey leads the bull riding world standings heading into this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Kimzey’s road to a possible world title recently got a bit easier after four-time and reigning World Champion J.W. Harris was forced to forfeit more than $47,000 from his official earnings after failing to meet the PRCA’s minimum rodeo rule of 40. As a result, Harris fell from third to sixth in the standings and now trails Kimzey by $65,858 heading into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Kimzey was just as surprised to hear about the development as anyone.

“I thought that was crazy,” he said. “I don’t know if he miscounted or what, but I thought it was pretty wild he didn’t get all of his rodeos. On the flip side of that, I think it’s pretty impressive a guy can win that much money without going to 40 rodeos. It was a bad deal, but it is what it is.”

Harris is someone Kimzey respects and looks up to, so he wishes circumstances were different.

“I wish he’d gotten to count his money,” Kimzey said. “The spirit of competition between us and Trey (Benton III) is really strong, and everybody who’s going to be at the Finals wants to compete against everybody. We want everybody to have their best shot to win, and the fact that he doesn’t get to count all of his money stinks.

“In a way, it’s going to hurt the competition at the Finals with him being so far down instead of right in the thick of things for the title race.”

Kimzey knows he still has a job to do – especially with Benton III trailing him by only $17,618 – and that Harris will be especially motivated once the rodeo begins on Dec. 4.

“My job’s still the same,” he said. “He’ll be ready to win. He always is. We better not stump our toe too bad.”

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, has been working to stay sharp for the Wrangler NFR, but recently hit a snag when he was stepped on by a bull.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

Sage Kimzey, shown here riding at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, has been working to stay sharp for the Wrangler NFR, but recently hit a snag when he was stepped on by a bull. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by James Phifer

Until that battle begins, Kimzey is enjoying some time off as he works to stay healthy and keep the rust off.

“It’s been awesome just getting to hang out at the house with my buddies and not have to worry about just absolutely grinding going down the road 24/7,” he said. “It’s been pretty great getting a bunch of days off. I’ve enjoyed it a bunch.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

World title races should provide great drama in Vegas

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contestant roster is still in the painstaking process of being approved by PRCA auditors, but that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the top of the standings in each event to prognosticate how world title races will play out.

Picking world champions is a tricky thing, especially considering how much money is up for grabs in Las Vegas during the 10-day rodeo and everything that can happen in the arena. After all, who could have predicted that Shane Hanchey would vault from 10th to first in the tie-down roping or Hunter Cure would go from seventh place to first to claim his first career steer wrestling gold buckle?

Surprises like those happen every year at the Wrangler NFR, and that’s part of what makes it the best and most exciting rodeo on the planet. But I still can’t resist trying my hand as Nostradamus and sharing my gold buckle predictions for December, so here goes.

Bareback riding

The skinny: No offense to the other guys within striking distance, but I will be shocked of Kaycee Feild fails to win a fourth consecutive bareback riding world championship. Field has had a monster season, racking up a ProRodeo-best $172,384 in pre-NFR earnings for a single-event cowboy. He leads Steven Peebles by $45,455 and has been just as dominant in the Thomas & Mack Center as his ProRodeo Hall of Fame father Lewis, who won his three all-around crowns there from 1985-87. Peebles and Austin Foss could certainly get in the mix, but Feild will be nearly impossible to unseat from the top spot.

Dark horse: Perhaps four-time World Champ Bobby Mote from sixth place, but there’s just too much ground to make up.

My pick: Kaycee Feild

Kaycee Feild is once again the man to beat in the bareback riding, and he's also a leading candidate to earn his second career RAM Truck Top Gun Award for being the Wrangler NFR's top money winner.

Kaycee Feild is once again the man to beat in the bareback riding, and he’s also a leading candidate to earn his second career RAM Truck Top Gun Award for being the Wrangler NFR’s top money winner.

Steer wrestling

The skinny: With just $45,723 separating first and 15th, get ready for a crazy roller-coaster ride here sports fans. Trevor Knowles leads the way with $91,804 in earnings, with K.C. Jones and Casey Martin holding down the next couple spots, but this race could have a different world standings leader every night. Once again, it will come down to Round 10 and who can perform in a pinch, and stock draws will play a factor as well.

Dark horse: Technically everyone, but four-time World Champion Luke Branquinho from the eighth position is an easy choice for this category. He’ll be coming back strong and confident after rehabbing a shoulder injury and could booty-shake his way to yet another gold buckle.

My pick: Trevor Knowles

This could be the year Trevor Knowles puts it all together and wins a gold buckle after contending for one for years, but he'll have to survive a wide-open battle to do it.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

This could be the year Trevor Knowles puts it all together and wins a gold buckle after contending for one for years, but he’ll have to survive a wide-open battle to do it. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

Team roping

The skinny: Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill are the defending champions and will enter this year’s battle in the top spot, making them the team to beat. They won the world title last year despite finishing sixth in the average, and my gut tells me they’ll be gunning for the average this year instead of go-round wins. The teams of Erich Rogers and Cory Petska and Trevor Brazile and Travis Graves will certainly be factors, and there is only roughly $60,000 separating first from 15th place, so this race could be insanity personified.

Dark horses: Everyone.

My pick: Trevor Brazile and Travis Graves

Saddle bronc riding

The skinny: This is going to be a good one folks. Two-time gold buckle winner Taos Muncy will arrive at the Thomas & Mack Center ranked No. 1 with $126,879 in earnings, but fellow two-time champ Cody Wright is on his heels, just $15,794 behind. Virtually everyone in the top 10 has a legitimate chance here, and that includes reigning World Champion Chad Ferley from the No. 10 spot. Cort Scheer and Heith DeMoss, ranked third and fourth, respectively, can’t be overlooked either, so it’s a wide-open race.

Dark horses: Sixth-placed Wade Sundell and No. 8 Jesse Wright have made it a habit of winning big in Las Vegas, so they will likely be factors.

My pick: Taos Muncy

Tie-down roping

The skinny: Tuf Cooper leads Matt Shiozawa by $36,839 and has the inside track on this gold buckle. The always dangerous Brazile stands third, $59,973 behind Cooper, and Hanchey is three spots higher than he was before his world-title run of last December with his No. 7 ranking. I talked to Cooper last week, and he learned a lot from finishing fourth a year ago. Plus, he said he’s having more fun than ever this year, and that’s usually a sign that a guy is in a great place mentally.

Tuf Cooper is in position to win his third career tie-down roping gold buckle, but will have to earn it in every round at the Wrangler NFR.

Tuf Cooper is in position to win his third career tie-down roping gold buckle, but will have to earn it in every round at the Wrangler NFR.

Dark horses: Hanchey from his seventh position, or Hunter Herrin from the No. 6 spot look to be the guys lurking in the shadows.

My pick: Tuf Cooper

Barrel racing

The skinny: Kaley Bass leads the way in the standings and is $23,809 clear of Fallon Taylor, with Lisa Lockhart trailing bass by just $33,663. This will be one of the most compelling battles of the Wrangler NFR, especially considering three other women also have more than $100,000 in season earnings. One tipped barrel can be the difference here, and it’s going to be great theater.

Dark horses: Mary Walker is within striking distance in seventh place, and four-time and reigning World Champion Sherry Cervi will begin the 10-day extravaganza in ninth, and both ladies definitely have the horsepower to make a charge.

My pick: Lisa Lockhart

Bull riding

The skinny: This was shaping up to be a three-man showdown between standings leader Sage Kimzey, a heralded rookie, Trey Benton III and four-time and reigning World Champion J.W. Harris. But that was before Harris lost more than $47,000 in Xtreme Bulls Tour money for failing to compete in the minimum number of PRCA rodeos (40) this season. That gaffe leaves Kimzey in the driver’s seat with a $17,618 lead over Benton III, but 2012 World Champion Cody Teel is third and only $40,576 behind Kimzey. This is always one of the most difficult events to pick, because you never know who might get tapped off or injured during the course of the rodeo.

Dark horse: You can never count Harris out, and if he sets his mind right and gets locked in, he can be a machine. He is $65,858 behind Kimzey, but anything could happen.

My pick: Sage Kimzey

Cooper: Obligation to fans, family drives me to excel

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of guest columns that will be featured on the NFR Insider page on NFRExperience.com from time to time leading up to December’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Two-time World Champion Tie-Down Roper Tuf Cooper is the son of ProRodeo Hall of Famer Roy “Super Looper” Cooper, as well as the current world standings leader who is headed to his seventh consecutive Wrangler NFR. Here, the beloved cowboy gives insight into his back-to-back world championships from 2011-12 and his feelings about his duties as a role model.

BY TUF COOPER

The 2011 season was the first time I ever went into Vegas in the No. 1 spot.

Vegas has always been good to me in the past, and going in with the No. 1 spot gave me a lot of confidence before the first round started. My horsepower was really good that year, and I got to ride one of the best horses that’s ever been in that setup, Jaguar.

Through the 10 rounds, I didn’t win all of the money possible, and it got interesting for a few rounds. But when it was all said and done, winning a world title is something you achieve at that moment that sticks with you.

It took some time to really realize it, even though it was the only thing I’d thought about ever since I was 12 years old. You have goals of winning multiple world championships, and once it happens once, you want to stay on the same path and keep winning another one every year after another.

Tuf Cooper says he's having more fun this year than ever before and leads the world standings heading into the Wrangler NFR.

Tuf Cooper says he’s having more fun this year than ever before and leads the world standings heading into the Wrangler NFR.

I told myself since I was 16 that I was going to win the world, and once it happens, part of you expects you to do it because you’ve believed in yourself and because of all the hard work you’ve put in. The other part is just completely thrilled out of your mind that you just won a world championship. You can’t believe it, and you’re so excited.

Then, you get the buckle a month later with your name on it, and you want to wear it immediately. You’re like, “Man, I can’t believe I get to put a world championship buckle on with my name on it.”

Kaycee Feild and I both won our first world titles that year, and it’s kind of weird how often we’ve been linked together through the years. The first year I made the Finals in 2008, I always thought it was cool whenever Kaycee and I would win the same rodeos during the year that year and other years.

It was awesome being the world champion in 2012, because I got to represent not just my event, but my sport at the highest level. It was the first time I got to do that, and so I made sure that every rodeo I showed up at I stayed focused on not just representing myself, but also the PRCA, the sport of rodeo and the event of calf roping.

It was great being announced as the reigning world champ, but in a way it didn’t mean as much because it doesn’t have any impact on the next season. Wherever you are during that season, you’d better be doing well since you’re the world champ. You’d better act like it and rope like it.

The 2012 season was a good one, but then in the fall I had all three of my good horses went down. So, I just had a good, young 5-year-old horse, and some other ropers helped me by letting me ride their horses at the end of the season.

Justin Maass had been winning and leading the standings all year long. I wanted to get that No. 1 spot all year long, but he was winning and doing well every weekend.

That really pushed me every day to really figure out a way to win. I dang sure prepared and trained like I was winning second.

I was in second place all year long, and going into the Finals I think I was $20,000 behind. I don’t remember what round I took the lead, but it was a tight race all the way to the 10th round.

He roped phenomenal all year long, but I think that was the best year I ever had with total money won, and it was a good race. Having him out front, it pushed me to just want to keep getting better at calf roping and not just maintaining what I had.

It really helped my attitude. It made me really try to get better at roping, focus and not take anything for granted.

With the opportunities I had starting on the first night of the Finals, I knew I wasn’t going to get them again. So, I really tried to stay focused on doing the best I could.

Tuf Cooper looks up to a number of rodeo legends as role models. He spent some time talking with ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray earlier this year at a photo shoot in Las Vegas.

Tuf Cooper looks up to a number of rodeo legends as role models. He spent some time talking with ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty Murray earlier this year at a photo shoot in Las Vegas.

I’m leading the world standings this year, and to win three gold buckles in four years would be awesome. It would be in line with my goals, and it’s something I dream about every year.

Everybody who’s ever roped wants to win the world every year, and three out of four wouldn’t be horrible.

You have your daily goals, your year-end goals and your ultimate goals about what you want to be. My daily goals are usually to win the rodeo I’m at, the yearly goal is to win a world championship, and the ultimate goal is to be the best calf roper that’s ever lived.

As long as I stay focused on those three things every day and make decisions based on those goals, I’ll be fine. I definitely have a better opportunity to do all that roping calves than anybody’s ever had, just because of what my family offers me every day.

I’ve been put into the best situation anybody’s probably ever had, and I’m here to make sure I don’t let the family down that’s given me that opportunity. I don’t want to let my dad down, or Trevor Brazile, Stran Smith or my brothers down, because they help me just as much as they help themselves every day.

It’s no pressure, really, and if it is pressure, it’s the best kind you can have. I have fans telling me that I’m a Cooper and Coopers are supposed to rope well, and they know that Trevor is my brother-in-law so they expect me to do well when I nod my head.

It’s more them giving me confidence to win, and no matter what situation you’re in or where you come from, you’ve got to be positive.

I’m blessed to have even one person follow me, and it makes me really excited every day that somebody would want to look up to me or see what I’m doing on Twitter or whatever. I know it’s a job, so I’ve got to do the best job I can of being the best role model I can for the little kids following me.

Tuf Cooper has a dedicated fan base and always makes time for his fans. Here, he enjoyed helping a special friend at the Wrangler NFR Exceptional Rodeo in 2011.

With one of the most dedicated fan bases in ProRodeo, Tuf Cooper always makes time for his fans. Here, he enjoyed helping a friend navigate her way through the Wrangler NFR Exceptional Rodeo in 2011.

I’m blessed and really thankful to have that opportunity to be somebody who’s looked up to. I know it’s my job to be the best role model I can be, and I try to make decisions while thinking about that.

When I’m practicing, I know my fans expect me to be the best I can and push it hard, and it makes me want to practice harder. It also makes me try to make the best decisions outside the arena, because somebody is always watching.

It’s just so important for me and my career where it’s at right now to remember the role models I’ve had and people I’ve looked up to since I was young and still look up to. My heroes are the people I’ve looked up to and wanted to be like and the ones I used to watch videos of on YouTube to see how they competed and carried themselves.

That played such an important role for where I am today, and I know it’s that important for me to be the right role model for little kids who want to grow up and put themselves in my shoes. And if you look up to the wrong people who are not headed on the right path, how are you going to be able to go in the right direction?

After last year’s Finals and finishing fourth in the world, I decided that I wasn’t going to do anything unless it was productive and fun. If it’s not, then I don’t want to do it.

Tuf Cooper will likely be bombarded by interested media again this year at the Wrangler NFR as he goes for gold buckle No. 3.

Tuf Cooper will likely be bombarded by interested media again this year at the Wrangler NFR as he goes for gold buckle No. 3.

This has been the most productive and fun year I’ve had. I’m enjoying every second of my career and my job right now.

You can make it fun, or you can make it not fun, and it’s really up to you in rodeo and in this industry. So, I’m making sure I’m having a blast every day.

Cooper led the world standings heading into the 2011 Wrangler NFR, placed in five rounds there and finished with $192,042 in season earnings. That was $18,266 better than second-place Matt Shiozawa. The following year, Cooper overcame injuries to his horses to chase down world standings leader Justin Maass after finishing second in the Wrangler NFR average to finish with $232,885 for the season. That was $35,291 more than Maass’ final total and gave Cooper his second consecutive gold buckle.

It’s a numbers game

This is the week contestants are either kicking themselves and second-guessing decisions from earlier in the season or rejoicing in the revelry of qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

It is one of the most compelling, and brutal, weeks in the ProRodeo season, as the regular season comes to a close today and the official audit begins to confirm the numbers that were released on Monday telling the rodeo world who’s in and who’s out of the “Super Bowl of rodeo.” And oh my, what a frenzied flurry to the finish we had in the past week, as competitors raced across the country chasing every last available dollar!

This past week determined who will be able to see the bright lights of Las Vegas in December as the PRCA's 2014 regular season came to a close.

This past week determined who will be able to see the bright lights of Las Vegas in December as the PRCA’s 2014 regular season came to a close.

ABC’s “Wild World of Sports” used to talk about “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and that’s just what materialized the last seven days. A number of contestants jumped into the coveted Top 15 as others dropped out, but the most compelling drama occurred atop the bull riding standings.

Four-time World Champion J.W. Harris plummeted from third to sixth in the world standings after losing his Xtreme Bulls Tour money for not competing in the minimum number of PRCA rodeos required (40) to make his Xtreme Bulls Tour earnings official. Harris, who entered a number of Professional Bull Riders events this year, lost the $47,726 he earned for being the Tour champion and dropped to sixth in the standings with $77,307, a whopping $65,858 behind world standings leader Sage Kimzey.

“That’s going to light a fire under me and motivate me more to do good out there (at the WNFR),” Harris told the PRCA Communications Department.

There’s no doubt he’ll be aggravated and motivated in Las Vegas, but this fiasco may just cost Harris a fifth world title. Kimzey leads the way with $143,165, with Trey Benton III next at $125,547.

Sage Kimzey leads the bull riding world standings heading into this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Sage Kimzey leads the bull riding world standings heading into this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Bull rider Beau Hill is at the other end of the spectrum from Harris after banking $4,465 on the final weekend to jump from 16th to 13th and qualify for his first Wrangler NFR in 10 years. Hill, who finished third at the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb., was ecstatic after his last-ditch effort paid off.

“Ten years is a long time, and it feels special to me to make it,” Hill told the PRCA. “That was a goal of mine at the beginning of the year, and I guess I’m running out of years as far as bull riders go, so it feels good to reach a goal like this.”

Brett Stall was the odd man out in bull riding, finishing $1,498 behind Elliot Jacoby for the 15th spot.

That kind of scenario was repeated in virtually every, including the team, where Tom Richards and Cesar de la Cruz vaulted up to 15th place after huge final weeks. Richards banked $12,120 to knock two-time World Champion Chad Masters down to 16th by $1,802, while de la Cruz won $10,858 to finish just $2,774 ahead of Kinney Harrell for the final heeling spot.

In the bareback riding, Steven Dent earned checks at three different rodeos to bump injury-plagued R.C. Landingham out of the final spot by $3,532. Bulldogger Seth Brockman moved from 17th to 14th in the final week, Blake Knowles dropped to 18th and Ty Erickson finished a mere $64 ahead of Tom Lewis for the 15th and final spot.

Lewis will hope that the PRCA’s official audit, which is ongoing, will uncover a hitch that will put him in the Wrangler NFR, but reversals like that are extremely rare. The audit is a lengthy and tedious process involving numerous members of an accounting firm that set up shop at PRCA Headquarters for weeks to check every record and double-check every decimal point, and it will be a couple weeks before everything is 100 percent official.

Barring any unforeseen incidents, Canadian saddle bronc rider Dustin Flundra will be headed to his third career Wrangler NFR after edging Troy Crowser by $148 for the No. 15 position. In the barrel racing, Texas’ Jana Bean finished $399 ahead of Brenda Mays of Oregon for the final Wrangler NFR position, and steer roper Troy Tillard will head to the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kan., Nov. 7-8, after edging Jarrett Blessing by $561 for the 15th spot.

Interesting qualification notes

Spencer Wright held on to the 13th spot in the saddle bronc riding world standings to join his brothers Cody, Jesse and Jake at the 2014 Wrangler NFR, marking the first time in the prestigious rodeo’s history that four brothers qualified for the same Finals.

Spencer Wright will join his brothers (from l to r) Jake, Cody and Jesse at the Wrangler NFR this year, marking the first time four brothers have qualified for the same Finals.

Spencer Wright will join his brothers (from l to r) Jake, Cody and Jesse at the Wrangler NFR this year, marking the first time four brothers have qualified for the same Finals.

After a strong first half of the season, eight-time World Champion Fred Whitfield failed to qualify for his 21st Wrangler NFR in the tie-down roping after dropping outside the top 20. Conversely, six-time World Champion Cody Ohl, who was outside the top 50 as late as mid-July, finished 14th in the standings and is headed to his 20th career Finals.

Eight-time World Champion Team Roper Rich Skelton qualified for his 21st Wrangler NFR by finishing eighth among heelers in the season standings and can become the all-time winningest team roper if he gets tapped off and claims a ninth gold buckle in Las Vegas in December. Seven-time World Champions Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper, although no longer roping together, have outside chances to tie Skelton and Speed Williams with eight world championships after they both finished in the Top 15. Barnes will arrive in Las Vegas 11th among headers, while O’Brien Cooper will begin Round 1 in the 14th

Steer wrestler Hunter Cure is the only 2013 world champion who did not qualify for this year’s Wrangler NFR. He finished 28th in the standings with just $35,837, $64,163 less than he won in one day at The American Rodeo in March and $72,511 shy of the 2013 Wrangler NFR earnings that carried him to his first gold buckle. Cure was hampered by back problems all season and underwent surgery in June to remove a portion of a herniated disc and was out six weeks after that. Here’s wishing him a strong return to form in 2015.

Big run helps Kimzey retake world standings lead

A healthy Sage Kimzey is pretty darn good.

The 20-year-old rookie from Strong City, Okla., has been on a tear lately since recovering from a groin injury that forced him to the sidelines. Kimzey has banked nearly $36,000 since late August to wrestle the world standings lead away from four-time World Champion J.W. Harris.

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

This past weekend, Kimzey put $6,875 in the bank after winning the Division II Xtreme Bulls event in Oklahoma City thanks to scores of 87 and 92, and that was just his most recent big haul. He won the New Mexico State Fair & Rodeo, which ran from Sept. 12-19, with an 89-pointer on Cervi Brothers’ Wolverine Construction Ringo that put $5,189 in his pocket.

On Aug. 30, Kimzey stuck Corey & Lange Rodeo’s Wild Eyes for 89 points to win the final round of the Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale in Ellensburg, Wash., a ride that earned him the event’s overall title and $15,052 for his efforts. He also won $2,593 in Pendleton, Ore., won rodeos in Spokane, Wash., and Blackfoot, Idaho, for $1,000-plus checks and earned another $1,711 at the Division II Xtreme Bulls event in Lewiston, Idaho.

Since Aug. 30, Kimzey has raked in $35,947 and an abundance of confidence, to boot.

“When you’re healthy, it’s pretty easy to have success,” Kimzey said. “I struggled with those injuries for a while and hadn’t really hit any big licks for a while, so going to Ellensburg, winning the Finale and winning $15,000 just put everything back into motion and kick-started it.”

That ride in Ellensburg on Wild Eyes was the catalyst for Kimzey’s late-season charge, and he had a feeling he would get along well with the bucking beast.

“I’d seen him around for the last year-and-a-half or so and saw him at the (Wrangler National) Finals, and I thought he’d fit me well,” Kimzey said. “He’s just a great bull.

“Winning the Xtreme Bulls Finale was definitely one of the highlights of my year.”

Sage Kimzey secured the Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale title in Ellensburg, Wash., on Aug. 30 thanks to this 87-point ride aboard Corey & Lange Rodeo's Wild Eyes.  --Photo by Molly Morrow

Sage Kimzey secured the Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale title in Ellensburg, Wash., on Aug. 30 thanks to this 87-point ride aboard Corey & Lange Rodeo’s Wild Eyes. –Photo by Molly Morrow

Kimzey also knew a bit about his draw in New Mexico.

“I’ve seen him a lot, too,” he said. “He was on the (PBR’s) Built Ford Tough Series for a while, and he’s been a great bull ever since he came out. I was really looking forward to him when I got there, and it worked out.”

Being healthy and drawing well is a great combination for any bull rider, and Kimzey has enjoyed both aspects the last month. He continued to draw well in Oklahoma City en route to the title.

Kimzey’s 87 came on D&H Cattle’s Savage Moves, and he and Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Ninety Proof combined for 92 points in the short round.

“They were another couple of great bulls,” Kimzey said of his Division II draws. “The one in the short round, I’d been looking forward to (getting on) for a while, and the other one was a good young bull. They’re just good bulls to draw and the kind that give you a chance to win something.

“If you get a good bull, that’s half your score.”

After the regular season concludes, Kimzey will begin to taper off his schedule in October and November to rest up for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“We have a few events in October like the All-American Finals and circuit finals, so October will be semi-busy,” he said. “But November, I’ll pretty much have it all off. So, I’ll have some time to recuperate from the year.”

Kimzey’s big three weeks put him at $143,165 for the season, $18,133 ahead of Harris with one week left in the season. His big hits couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a much-needed time coming off that injury, and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Kimzey said. “Any time you can win that much money in a couple weeks, it’s always good, especially at the time of the year it came. I feel really good about my bull riding heading into the end of the season and heading into the NFR.”

This is the fifth in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

Physical fitness crucial to cowboys’ success

I stepped on a scale on Aug. 1 and didn’t like what I saw.

My sloth-like existence in recent months and even years had pushed my weight to new and disturbing heights, and my Wranglers were begging for help. So, I decided to do something about it.

By changing my diet and exercising at least six days a week, I slowly began to shed the pounds that had begun to plague me. When I stepped on the scale on Tuesday, I was happy to see I had hit the 20-pound mark for weight loss.

It got me to thinking about how cowboys stay in shape during the season, when they’re driving and flying thousands of miles, grabbing fast food and meals when they can and sitting on planes or in a truck cab for hours and hours on end. The first guy I thought of was three-time World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild.

Known to be as strong as an ox and built like a fullback, Feild is a physical specimen who no doubt has used his strength and stamina as springboards to world titles. Most bareback riders have athletic and stocky builds, but Feild takes it to another level.

Not only was Kaycee Feild the 2011 RAM Top Gun Award winner, but the stout cowboy has spent time in the gym working on his "guns" in order to be stronger for competition.

Not only was Kaycee Feild the 2011 RAM Truck Top Gun Award winner, but the stout cowboy has spent time in the gym working on his “guns” in order to be stronger for competition.

As expected, he said exercising during the season is difficult and is more about maintenance than building added strength.

“In the bareback riding, in July we get on a horse a day or sometimes two horses a day, and I get so dang tight and knotted up,” said Feild, who leads the bareback riding standings with $159,033. “In June, July and August, it’s mostly just a mile or two-mile run and then just stretching, trying to get loose and my muscles to free up. I really stress rest, especially with all of the all-night driving, and I find that working out really wears you down that time of year.

“Rest, running and stretching has been the No. 1 key to my success.”

Once the regular season concludes at the end of this month, he will step up his workout regimen.

“Starting Oct. 1, I’ll be in the gym probably 12 hours a week,” said Feild, who has a gym in the basement of his home in Spanish Fork, Utah. “I mostly just do body-weight exercises, but use some weights, too. I don’t want to bulk up. I want to be lean and limber.”

Combining cardio and strength training, Feild pushes himself in the offseason.

“I do cardio every time,” he said of his trips to his gym. “I do a lot of ladder sprints, box jumps, jumping rope and anything to get the heart rate up. I like to change it up every time I go in there.”

Feild said he’s even considering mixing in some yoga this offseason along with his wife, Stephanie, to help give him added flexibility. Feild also said he takes daily vitamins, but not protein supplements.

Having a solid offseason workout plan helps Feild begin new rodeo seasons with energy and a stockpile of stamina.

“If you’re in shape and working out, when you get to the rodeo, you feel like you’re supposed to,” Feild said. “You have a lot of energy, you’re aggressive and wound up, instead of being down in the dumps. I feel like, as soon as you start letting yourself go and aren’t working on personal fitness, you get to the rodeo with the wrong attitude.”

Working out and being physically fit has helped Kaycee Feild win the last three bareback riding gold buckles. --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall)

Working out and being physically fit has helped Kaycee Feild win the last three bareback riding gold buckles. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

I got a humorous response from Feild when I asked who the noted “gym rats” were among the ProRodeo ranks.

Jesse Wright is an animal in the gym,” Feild said.

So, I called Wright to inquire about what exactly he does to stay strong. Apparently, building one heck of a personal gym in his Milford, Utah, home has been a big help.

“I’ve got a weight room in my house,” said Wright, the 2012 world champion saddle bronc rider. “I’ve got a heavy bag, a speed bag, a bench press, dumbbell weights from 25 to 100 pounds and 450 pounds of bar weight. I make up different workouts to mix it up and so I get a different effect.”

As far as staying in shape on the road, well, Wright has implemented a plan for that, too.

“I’ve got resistance bands from 20 to 100 pounds that I pack around on the road,” Wright said. “We have the Perfect Pushup, too, and that’s what I use on the road. We’ve got a big mat, and I do a lot of P90X-type workouts.”

Staying fit and strong is key for Wright, who swears by its benefits.

“I think it’s a crucial deal, myself,” said Wright, who stands 12th in the saddle bronc riding world standings with $59,846. “I think your body can take it when a horse smacks you way better than if you were out of shape. If something does happen and you’re in shape, your muscles might not get torn or torn as bad, and you can come back quicker.

“I try to stay in shape as best I can to try and prevent that.”

Jesse Wright, right, shown here with brothers Cody, center, and Jake, built a home gym to use to stay in shape year-round.

Jesse Wright, right, shown here with brothers Cody, center, and Jake, built a home gym to use to stay in shape year-round.

Earlier this year, I talked to four-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho about his rehab regimen as he recovers from a shoulder injury. He feels like he will come back stronger than ever, and Feild fully expects that to happen.

“I think he’s going to come back stronger than ever and be better than he’s ever been,” Feild said of Branquinho. “That’s going to light a fire under those other guys’ butts. Those other guys are going to wake up, start working out and doing some things to better themselves.”

He can relate to what Branquinho is going through.

“It’s kind of similar to what happened to me,” Feild said. “No one was really working out in the bareback riding and were just working on their riding. Then, I broke my arm in 2010 and had been going to the Middle East (to visit U.S. troops), and was talking to those guys about preparation and being ready for any situation.

“I just started using that for my bareback riding by going to the gym, and that’s when I realized how strong and aggressive I could be and how good riding could feel.”

Three gold buckles later, and with a fourth straight looking good for 2014, there’s no questioning that Feild was right.