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.

Feild: Winning first three all-around titles in Las Vegas was special

Editor’s note: This is the second 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. Five-time World Champion Lewis Feild is a ProRodeo Hall of Famer, a National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum honoree and the father of three-time World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild. Here, he gives exclusive details about his thoughts and feelings while winning three consecutive all-around gold buckles from 1985-87 and narrowly missing out on a fourth in 1988.

BY LEWIS FEILD

Clay O’Brien Cooper was so dominant in the team roping at that time. If you look back, if the money would have been equal, he probably would have beat me in ‘85. There were quite a few years there – and everybody knows it – where he was a tough competitor.

I remember in ‘85, I think it was the ninth round maybe – and they didn’t announce things like that back then – that mathematically I think I had it won. I remember getting off one and thinking I’d won the world.

I didn’t know how to feel. It was weird and was my first championship.

I remember talking to J.C. Trujillo about it – he was really supporting me and helping me – and him telling me it was forever, that it doesn’t matter if you do it one time or 10 times, you’re forever a world champion. That’s really the only thing I remember going through my mind, and other than that, I felt pretty much the same.

Looking back, I kind of knew it was coming. At some point, the numbers are just in your favor.

With the all-around and bareback, I don’t remember really having any favoritism one way or the other. Either one could count as my first world title, and I happened to have won two at the same time.

I was elated enough for one, let alone two. They were just hand-in-hand.

Lewis Field was one of the top cowboys of the 1980s, winning three consecutive all-around gold buckles from 1985-87 and a total of five world titles.  --Photo courtesy of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame

Lewis Feild was one of the top cowboys of the 1980s, winning three consecutive all-around gold buckles from 1985-87 and a total of five world titles. –Photo courtesy of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame

You can’t hardly explain the difference when you go from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas, with all due respect to Oklahoma City. I went there four years, and it was great and absolutely fabulous.

I really respect everything Oklahoma City did, and at the time when we were going there, it was the greatest thing going. But when it moved to Las Vegas, it put everything in a whole different perspective by doubling the money.

In Oklahoma City in ’84, I looked at the numbers at the end of the year, and when your name is right there toward the top and you’re running numbers through your head and saying, “Well, if this happened,” or “Well, if that happened,” or “If I did this or would have done that,” it’s pretty easy to imagine yourself being able to win an all-around title. I had all of the confidence in the world that I could continue to do better than I’d been doing, and I didn’t think there was any bucking horse out there that could throw me off or that I couldn’t ride well.

It was just something I thought was very attainable.

I remember hearing the comment made that the way rodeo was structured at that time, a roughstock guy would never win the all-around again. If you added up the total money available to win of, say, a calf roper compared to a bareback rider, it was a huge difference because they had two-headers and all.

It looked like the deck was stacked against us roughstock guys, but even though there was so much more money, if you win a lot and win enough, you’re going to win a gold buckle. I never did think it was unattainable, but at the same time, I was just riding.

I really enjoyed what I was doing and definitely wanted to win a gold buckle and a championship, but I was riding to make a living and basically went at it one horse at a time and just enjoyed the ride.

In those years, everything was always going to the next level for me, and I kind of expected those things to happen and to win titles. I didn’t feel like there was any pressure to repeat or anything like that.

Thinking back, I’m sure I expected to or thought it was very possible to do it. I don’t think it surprised me very much when I did repeat. A lot of times, these things happen, and from one night to the next night, you know where you are in the standings and what’s going on.

At that time, I just remember expecting things to happen that would allow me to win the championships. But sometimes, the chips don’t fall in your favor and things may happen when you don’t even make a mistake. Something out of the ordinary can happen, or you can make a mistake, too.

I don’t have a lot of specific recollections or any specifics about some of those races.

In 1986, that was my first time qualifying in two events – bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Having won the all-around the previous year only qualifying in one event and being there in two events, my confidence level was even higher.

I remember, with bonuses and everything, going home with $50,000 from the Finals that year, and that was probably like going home with $250,000 in this day and age. It’d be really interesting to see the value of the dollar compared then and now.

No. 1

Kaycee Feild, left, was born in 1987, the same year his Hall of Fame father, Lewis, won his third straight all-around world championship. The younger Feild now has three gold buckles of his own and is the favorite to win a fourth in December.

Kaycee was born in ’87, and I remember coming close to a title in the bronc riding that year. That was special to me, because when I got my card in ’80, if someone had asked me which was my stronger event, I probably would have said the saddle bronc riding.

So, at the very beginning, my expectations were higher in the bronc riding than they were in the bareback riding, but that’s just not the way it worked out. I won Rookie of the Year in the bareback riding instead of the bronc riding, so things just kind of switched on me.

At the same time, I always felt just as capable in the bronc riding. Having a good Finals that year in the bronc riding was real satisfying, and at that time I had some nagging injuries.

I was always entered in the bareback riding, but had some pain and some elbow issues, so it was just nice to get on a bronc sometimes and let my body heal up for the bareback riding. It was nice to have that time off from the bareback riding and heal up so I’d feel a bit better.

Finishing second in ’88 was kind of shocking to me, and I didn’t expect that. I’d roped a lot that year – probably more than 30 rodeos – and I didn’t win that much, but I’d placed eight, 10 or 12 times.

It was somewhere around $1,800 or $2,000 that I’d earned in team roping, and it was enough that, if the PRCA had counted it, I would have won the all-around. At that point, I didn’t win enough in the team roping for it to count in the all-around, and I don’t even remember what the rules were.

But that money was taken away from me in the standings, so I didn’t like that part of it. That was disappointing.

I had a pretty good lead, was qualified in two events and had a decent year in the team roping, but the rules were the rules. Now, it’s changed, and I’m pretty sure even a penny counts in a third event.

The intent of the rule wasn’t to do what it did to me though.

I don’t remember the specifics of how it all came down in Vegas that year, and I don’t even remember why I got a no-score in Round 9 in the bareback riding. I was either bucked off or missed the horse out.

Of course, it was disappointing not winning that title. But by the time I was home a day or two later and involved with daily life, the kids, my wife, getting ready for Christmas and things like that, I just wasn’t too worried about it.

Winning three all-arounds in a row was great, and I didn’t realize I was the first guy to win three straight since Tom Ferguson. Tom was really the guy in that era before I started who was as dominant as anybody ever.

They didn’t beat him much, I tell you that, and there are some people out there who aren’t real knowledgeable about the sport who don’t realize that. He was a great, great cowboy.

To be able to win the first three in Vegas and for the Finals moving there, it’s pretty special to be on the same page with Vegas. Both of our successes in the game came together, and I remember how exciting it was pulling in there after coming up over the hill on I-15 from the North and seeing the city for the first time every year.

Lewis Feild still team ropes these days, and he and son Kaycee teamed up at the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up this week.  --Photo by Lewis Feild

Lewis Feild still team ropes these days, and he and son Kaycee teamed up at the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up this week. –Photo by Lewis Feild

With Kaycee coming along with all of his success, we have lots and lots of fond memories from Vegas. We keep going on, and we keep having great memories.

Feild beat Clay O’Brien Cooper for the 1985 PRCA all-around title by $3,598 and also won the bareback riding gold buckle that year, becoming the first roughstock cowboy to win the all-around since Larry Mahan in 1973. He then finished $38,774 ahead of Chris Lybbert for the all-around gold buckle in 1986 after again winning the bareback riding title and won his third all-around in a row in 1987 by finishing $30,169 ahead of Lance Robinson. Feild lost the 1988 all-around crown to Dave Appleton by a mere $643 after Appleton won Round 10 of the bareback riding to claim the bareback riding NFR average title.

Kimzey weathering tough summer patch

Every rodeo season has its ups and downs, and rookie bull rider Sage Kimzey is fully aware of that fact.

The cowboy from Strong City, Okla., is back in action after having to sit out a few weeks nursing an injured groin earlier this month. Kimzey, who also lost time this summer resting a sore riding arm, suffered the injury at the Lovington, N.M., Xtreme Bulls stop on Aug. 5 and sat out until the Champions Challenge event in Kennewick, Wash., on Aug. 19.

The groin injury was a pesky detour for Kimzey, who didn’t have much choice but to sit on the sidelines and let it heal.

“It’s pretty much just a sit around and wait game,” said Kimzey, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Tuesday. “I’d pulled a groin when I was younger, but nothing as extreme as this was. I took a couple weeks off and came back, and everything’s good.

“I’m wrapping it and putting compression on it, but it feels totally fine now.”

The talented bull rider proved he is back and ready to go by winning the Xtreme Bulls Division 2 event in Bremerton, Wash., on Aug. 20. He rode Growney Brothers Rodeo’s Shin Bone Alley for 85.5 points to win the short round and pocketed $2,977 after finishing as the only cowboy with two qualified rides.

“I had two good ones,” Kimzey said of his draws in Bremerton. “Everything was a little bit fast at the Kennewick Champions Challenge since it was my first event back. At Bremerton, (my timing) was a little bit fast on the first bull, but after I rode him, it was like riding a bike again. You don’t forget how to do it.”

Dealing with the injuries has been a nuisance, but Kimzey doesn’t view his summer as frustrating or a disappointment.

“It’s not been so much of a frustrating summer, but all of the events just came back to back to back, and then I had (issues) with my arm and groin,” said Kimzey, who has also placed in Rapid City, S.D., and won a CBR event since returning from the groin injury. “It hasn’t been a frustrating summer, just a slower one than what I had planned. But, you just keep going.”

Four-time World Champion J.W. Harris has caught the front-running Kimzey in the world standings and headed into the last week of August with a $14,295 lead over the rookie. Despite relinquishing the top spot to the future Hall of Famer, Kimzey – who has $107,218 in season earnings – hasn’t been disheartened by recent developments.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said of losing the world standings lead. “It’s really overwhelming and prestigious just to have your name on top of the leaderboard at all, but it doesn’t bother me that I’m sitting second now.”

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

With roughly a month left to earn money for the 2014 season, many contestants are hitting the road full-time in last-dash efforts to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or improve their rank in the world standings. The level-headed Kimzey, however, is taking a different approach.

“I’m actually taking this last part of the season pretty chill and not going to too many,” he said. “There’s too much money at the Finals to really worry about a couple thousand here or there. So, I’m just taking these last couple months pretty easy, being easier on my body and picking and choosing where I go.”

Kimzey knows December’s Wrangler NFR will be where gold buckles will be decided, and he’s going to spend the remaining months between now and then staying sharp and preparing for the 10-day spectacle.

“I don’t know that anything will matter once I get out there (to Las Vegas), as far as being run down,” he said. “It’s an ultimate dream come true, and I’d say that if I was a little tired or beat down from the road, that place would probably fix it. It’s all going to come down to 10 rounds in Vegas.”

Hitting the centennial mark is special treat

Has it really gone by this fast?

Am I really writing my 100th “NFR Insider” blog today? Wow, how time sprints away from you.

It’s hard to believe, but I’m full bore into year four of this enterprise, and it has been quite the experience so far. When I dreamed up this idea in 2011, little did I know how well it would be received and the life it would take on as time progressed.

It’s been hard work and, at times, challenging, but the ride has been a blast from the start. I’ve been able to cover the world’s most amazing rodeo and write about some of the sport’s most compelling and impressive athletes the past three-and-a-half years, and it has been a treat.

Part of the perks of being able to see the Wrangler NFR from the inside include photo ops with Vegas showgirls, like I had here in 2012.

One of the perks of being able to see the Wrangler NFR from the inside includes photo ops with all kinds of people, including Vegas showgirls like I had here in 2012.

Whether it’s interviewing country music legend Charlie Daniels, all-around king Trevor Brazile, winners of the Miss Rodeo America pageant, actor Mickey Jones or a slew of PRCA world champions, I’ve enjoyed it all. The variety of topics and features I’ve been able to cover and experience has been amazing when I look back on it.

My first blog was about the Fremont Street Experience and the Downtown Hoedown, and I’ve been running around Las Vegas covering the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from every angle ever since. I’ve written about Cowboy Christmas, after-parties, buckle presentations, FanFest, the ProRodeo Fan Zone, the PRCA Exceptional Rodeo, the rodeo’s television production, helmets in bull riding, bullfighters, announcers, judges, injuries, triumphs, defeats, families in rodeo, pickup men and the glory of gold buckles.

I even became part of the story – a la one of my favorite writers Hunter S. Thompson – in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals and I was nursed back to health with the help of the amazing Justin SportsMedicine Team at the Thomas & Mack Center. I had another memorable experience that year at the now-defunct Studio 54 club inside MGM Grand, although that blog didn’t sit well with some folks who’d rather not see that side of Las Vegas so in-depth.

I ended up in the Justin SportsMedicine Room in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals. The great staff worked on me for days and got me walking more like myself than Groucho Marx, and I still owe them a debt of gratitude.

That is not me in the photo, but I ended up in the Justin SportsMedicine Room in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals. The great staff worked on me for days and got me walking more like myself than Groucho Marx, and I still owe them a debt of gratitude.

It was also the year that Brazile was kind enough to let me see how the sport’s top dog lives in style at MGM Grand during the Wrangler NFR. He took me up to his massive suite to hang out with the family for a bit, and it was amazing to see where he kicks up his boots when he’s not being pulled 100 different directions during the Finals.

Being able to see Trevor Brazile's amazing MGM Grand suite during an exclusive interview in 2011 was one of the best experiences I've had at the Wrangler NFR.

Being able to see Trevor Brazile’s amazing MGM Grand suite during an exclusive interview in 2011 was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the Wrangler NFR.

Arguably my most popular column ever, “The Amazing Mary Walker,” came before the 2012 Wrangler NFR, when I wrote about the beloved barrel racer overcoming the loss of her son and a major injury to qualify for her first Finals. She went on to win the gold buckle that year and was the feel-good story of the entire rodeo, and I couldn’t have been happier for her.

I had the pleasure of doing an exclusive interview in the Thomas & Mack Center security office with Daniels before he performed during the opening of one of the performances in 2012, and he was gracious and engaging. He loves rodeo, and I could tell that he was enjoying every minute of being at the Finals.

Charlie Daniels was a great interview, and I was lucky enough to get an exclusive with the country music legend in 2012.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Charlie Daniels was a great interview, and I was lucky enough to get an exclusive with the country music legend in 2012. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Some of the highlights from last year included writing about the friendly and humble Sherry Cervi, family ties in the sport and my top 10 moments from my first 10 Wrangler NFRs. Every day at the Finals is an adventure, and you never know what will happen that will turn your head and make you want to write about it.

That’s part of the beauty of the event, and it’s a treasure trove of great storylines for any writer. The fact that I’ve been able to expand NFR Insider to a nearly yearlong column is a testament to the scope and magnitude of the Wrangler NFR, and it just shows how much cache and weight it carries in the sport.

There’s no telling what the future will hold, but what I do know is that I’ll have a lot of fun covering the 10-day rodeo and giving readers exclusive and behind-the-scenes insight into the spectacle of the sport’s premier event. I owe a lot of thanks to Las Vegas Events for believing in my ability and standing behind me as a partner in this endeavor through the years.

I’ve been proud to have also provided photos for many of my entries, as any writer or journalist wants to be as well-rounded as possible, and I hope they’ve added something to NFR Insider.

Las Vegas is a wonderful and magical city, and I can't wait to explore it once again this December for "NFR Insider" fans.

Las Vegas is a wonderful and magical city, and I can’t wait to explore it once again this December for “NFR Insider” fans.

It’s been awesome, and I can’t wait to see what the next 100 articles bring. I hope it’s been enjoyable reading and has offered one-of-a-kind looks at the Wrangler NFR for fans, and I’ll be sure to keep looking for new things to explore in this blog.

Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Whitfield staying strong through rough patch

Fred Whitfield has every right to be frustrated.

He’s dealt with bad draws, bad luck and even the death of a horse during a dry spring and summer that has him on the outside looking in at another Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth. But the Hall of Famer from Hockley, Texas, is keeping his chin up and mind strong as the season hits its stretch run, and he has not changed his plans of earning a 21st trip to Las Vegas.

“I’m not frustrated at all,” the eight-time world champion said. “I’m mentally tough, so that’s not a problem. It ain’t like it’s never happened before, and I think (my experience) will help a lot.

“The thing for me is just going around here and not winning and having bad things continue to happen, it just drains you. I’m not that worried about it, really. It’s either going to happen, or it’s not.”

Whitfield started the season with a whirl, banking $19,484 through March to firmly solidify himself in the top 10 in the world standings. Since then, he’s only been able to add $21,189 to his total, dropping to 18th in the standings, $6,490 behind 15th-place Jesse Clark.

Eight-time World Champion Fred Whitfield is gunning for a 21st career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth, but has had a challenging summer that could threaten his chances.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Eight-time World Champion Fred Whitfield is gunning for a 21st career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth, but has had a challenging summer that could threaten his chances. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Whitfield said he doesn’t feel “snake-bitten” but acknowledges that the rodeo gods have not exactly smiled upon him in recent months.

“It’s not been good,” said Whitfield, who did not qualify for last year’s Wrangler NFR. “I had a horse die in Ogden the other day that I’d been borrowing from some friends of mine, and I’ve just been having Hell. I was 10 (seconds) in Caldwell and broke the barrier to win Castle Rock (Colo.), so it’s just been a nightmare, really.

“I don’t know what the problem is.”

The luck of the draw has been a factor, he says.

“I haven’t been drawing good at all, honestly,” said Whitfield, the 1999 world champion all-around cowboy. “I’ve just been drawing bad, and it’s just been the whole nine yards.”

The rough summer run included frustrations North of the border, and Whitfield had to abandon his goal of also qualifying for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

“It was not good,” he said of his Canadian quest. “I quit that deal after I didn’t have enough money won or enough rodeos up there.”

Whitfield had to rest his prized mare, Jewel, after she fell ill, but he said he likely will go to her for the stretch run.

“I’m going to start riding my mare, Jewel, again,” he said. “She got sick in Calgary, and I’ve run a few calves on her, but not too many. I think it’s about time to get back on her.”

The seven-time world champion tie-down roper plans to stay on the road most of the next month-and-a-half as he chases down a Wrangler NFR spot. He will nod his head in Caldwell, Idaho, Gooding, Idaho, Moses Lake, Wash., Rapid City, S.D., Pueblo, Colo., and San Juan Capistrano, Calif., among others, the next couple of weeks alone.

Whitfield is $19,899 behind the $60,572 it took for Randall Carlisle to grab the 15th and final spot in last year’s Finals, but he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the ground he needs to make up.

“There’s still plenty of time, but it just needs to turn around,” he said. “I’ve got 20-something rodeos left, I’ve just got to get to winning.”

Fred Whitfield has enjoyed his time away from the arena promoting his autobiography and connecting with fans.

Fred Whitfield has enjoyed his time away from the arena promoting his autobiography and connecting with fans.

Whitfield has stayed active throughout the summer doing speaking engagements and making public appearances to promote his autobiography, “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie: The Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.” Connecting with fans has enabled him to forget the hurdles he’s faced this season, and the appearances have lifted his spirits.

“I’ve had a couple signings and have been busy with all that,” he said. “It’s been going good.”

Heading into the home stretch, Whitfield is focused and ready for the challenge ahead.

“I’ve been at this all season long, and I’m not just going to abort my plan,” he said. “I’ve still got a good chance to make the Finals, but I’ve got to win something.

“It’s the start of the fourth quarter, and it’s time to make some stuff happen.”

Timed-event cowboys have methods to their madness

They may only be “on the clock” for a few seconds each night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but timed-event cowboys are working well before they back in the box.

Plenty of work and preparation goes into every night’s competition before they nod their heads, from strategizing about their approaches on steers and calves and sharing information with competitors to studying film of previous nights. Most nights, they don’t just wing it and leave their fate to chance, instead employing a methodical approach to each run.

I’ve often seen cowboys huddled around computers in the Wrangler NFR press room or around televisions in the player lounge as they watch previous nights’ runs, looking for the slightest detail or edge that can help them shave time off their marks. It’s a fascinating process most people don’t realize goes on nightly inside the belly of the Thomas & Mack Center.

A lot goes on behind the scenes and in the depths of the Thomas & Mack Center that fans are never aware of, including cowboys' preparations for each night's performance.

A lot goes on behind the scenes and in the depths of the Thomas & Mack Center that fans are never aware of, including cowboys’ preparations for each night’s performance.

For steer wrestlers, preparing means watching some film, discussing each steer with their fellow bulldoggers and putting together a strategy for each lightning-fast round.

“If somebody has a steer I ran, I’ll tell them exactly what I felt, and vice-versa, to try and help them,” said 10-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Trevor Knowles, who is leading the world standings. “A guy will watch the run from the night before just to see if he can pick up on something. A guy likes to watch the steer go in slow motion one time and see if he can speed up what the previous guy did.

“If you have one of the steers that maybe aren’t one of the better ones, you’re better off running them second in the later rounds, because you’ve seen other guys go at them blind. You should be able to pick up on little things that help you throw them faster.”

But Knowles said the ultimate hope is to not have to worry too much about the steers in Las Vegas.

“Generally speaking, you’re hoping to draw good enough that you don’t need to watch any film to try to get an advantage,” he said. “You’re hoping to have steers that you don’t need to have a game plan for or anything different than the norm. Most of the steers there are supposed to be honest enough that hopefully you don’t have to pull out many tricks.”

Steer wrestlers like Trevor Knowles use video and information from each other to try to make the quickest runs each night in hopes of taking a victory lap like this.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

Steer wrestlers like Trevor Knowles use video and information from each other to try to make the quickest runs each night in hopes of taking a victory lap like this. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

Team ropers map out a plan of attack based on the steer they’ve drawn, talk to their partners about the best way to approach each run and try to discover tendencies about the animal they will soon rope.

“Cattle, they end up having patterns just like the horses and people or whatever,” said Hall of Famer and seven-time World Champion Jake Barnes. “The main thing is the speed and how they handle. They do have tendencies.”

That knowledge can be crucial to success.

“Knowing a steer is going to do something, there’s moves you can make to counter their moves,” said Barnes, who is fifth in this year’s heading standings. “You basically have an idea of the pattern the steer is going to run, and any time you have any information like that, it’s to your advantage. It’s almost like a boxer, football player or basketball player knowing what their opponent is going to do and the move they’re going to make.”

Jake Barnes

Jake Barnes

Barnes said that the first round of the Wrangler NFR is the first chance they have to rope the steers chosen for Las Vegas, so all previous preparation is key.

“They rope those steers through a couple days before the NFR, and everybody has someone there to film them,” said Barnes, who is looking to qualify for his first Wrangler NFR since 2011. “I think another things fans don’t know is that there are three sets of cattle. One set gets roped four times, and two of the other sets get roped three times.”

Sometimes, Barnes said, having too much knowledge can be a hindrance.

“It doesn’t always work, and a lot of times it’ll bite you in the tail,” he said. “I hear guys talking in the bull riding telecasts about setting up the bulls and trying to make a move before the bull makes it, but then the bull fakes them out and does something different. The same thing happens with steers.”

Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Shane Hanchey prefers to have all the information he can, especially since calves can be unpredictable.

“I like to have the info and don’t like to wing it with something that pays that much,” said Hanchey, who is third in the 2014 world standings. “I like to watch what the calf did the round before, like everybody, and pick out some positives and negatives with each calf to try and pinpoint what I think the calf is going to do. They’re animals, they’re not robots or machines, and they change their courses and change their paths, just like any other animal.”

Shane Hanchey

Shane Hanchey

Hanchey said tie-down ropers routinely share information – not to mention horses and horse trailers – with one another, a strong sign of sportsmanship in the sport.

“Whoever ran that calf before, I’ll ask how the calf was, because they know how they felt and what they might do the next time,” he said. “We’re all buddies for the most part and want each other to win, and we’re competing against that calf and not so much against each other.”

Talking about the Wrangler NFR had Hanchey looking toward the future.

“It’s starting to get that time of year where you’re starting to look forward to December,” he said. “It’s coming up quickly, and you’ve got to finish the year off strong and get ready for the NFR.”

 

Kimzey heads into August optimistic, atop standings

It’s beginning to seem that there is very little that will rattle rookie bull rider Sage Kimzey, despite his age.

A four-time world champion closes the gap on him in the world standings? His arm gets sore again after a bunch of rides in a short time and he has to take a break?

No worries, Kimzey is taking it all in stride.

The 19-year-old from Strong City, Okla., leads the PRCA World Standings heading into August after a solid check at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days pushed him past $100,000 in season earnings. He finished fourth at the famed rodeo, a feat that put a smile on his face.

“Any time you can go to ‘The Daddy of ‘em All,’ make the short round and win some money, it’s dang sure an accomplishment,” Kimzey said. “I got on some really good bulls there, was lucky enough to make the short round and did my job in the short round.”

A check for $4,308 at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days helped Sage Kimzey cross the $100,000 mark in season earnings.  --Photo courtesy of Fred McClanahan Jr.

A check for $4,308 for finishing fourth at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days helped Sage Kimzey cross the $100,000 mark in season earnings. –Photo courtesy of Fred McClanahan Jr.

He took a check home worth $4,308 from Cheyenne and pushed his season total to $101,184. Kimzey is just $11,906 shy of Steve Woolsey’s rookie record for pre-Wrangler National Finals Rodeo earnings, and eclipsing that on his way to Las Vegas would be a feather in his hat.

“It’s awesome to cross the $100,000 mark, and it’s pretty much the gold standard, as far as money won before the NFR,” Kimzey said. “So, crossing that before the beginning of August is pretty cool and a pretty good experience. (Beating Woolsey’s record) is a small goal and is something that would be cool to achieve, but it’s not something I’ve really been dwelling on.

“Having the most money won in the regular season as a rookie is always a great accomplishment.”

Four-time World Champion J.W. Harris has had a big few months and cut Kimzey’s lead to just $7,408 heading into this week. Trey Benton III is also in the mix with $87,652 as well, but Kimzey isn’t stressing too much about standings at this point of the season.

“You can’t worry about it at this time of the year,” he said. “There’s so much money going back and forth between the top guys, and any of the top guys are capable of having a $20,000 or $30,000 week. Those guys are phenomenal bull riders, but you can’t keep looking at the standings.

“I’ve just got to keep staying on my bulls.”

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

Kimzey left Cheyenne with a sore riding arm, so he’s decided to take some time off to rest and recuperate before hitting the road full-time again.

“I got on eight head in two days, so I was a little sored up,” Kimzey said. “So, I took a four-day doctor’s release and turned out of Spanish Fork, Salt Lake, Ogden and Eagle. That little break has really helped me, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to finish out the year.

“It’s really hard to take the time off that you need to – especially this time of year – but it’s also a lot easier to win when you’re feeling 100 percent healthy. It’s a fine line you have to walk, but last week I was at the point to where I felt like it was going to hurt getting on (a bull) and I wasn’t going to be enjoying what I was doing.”

The talented teen has also continued his stellar run in his home state, winning the Woodward Elks Rodeo in mid-July with an 83-pointer on Powder River Rodeo’s Tee Time. Kimzey has enjoyed riding in Oklahoma this year.

“It’s always great to get to ride so close to the house at a rodeo like Woodward that has so much history and prestige behind it,” said Kimzey, who has also won in Guymon, Tulsa, Duncan and Claremore this year. “I feel comfortable at (Oklahoma rodeos), and I’ve also drawn really well at them this year for some reason. It’s been a good year in my home state, that’s for sure.”

If he keeps riding the way he has been, Kimzey could have a good chance to take a gold buckle back home to the Sooner State come December.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles featuring rookie bull rider 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.