Before I get into my Fourth of July run, I need to tell you about last year.
Last year was the first time I’ve ever qualified for the National Finals Rodeo. I went into the NFR in fifth place in the bull riding. I was something like $150,000 behind Sage Kimzey. I was twenty years old and still a little wet behind the ears. All I really wanted when I left the Thomas & Mack was enough money to buy a 4-wheel-drive truck. I live in central Oregon, and I needed something to get around in the snow. That’s all I was really hoping for.
By Round Ten, I was one ride away from passing Sage and winning the gold buckle.
Finding My Path
I grew up in Canby, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley. It’s not really cowboy country. There’s a bunch of farmland, but they mostly grow Christmas trees.
My dad, John, was a bull rider. I got on my first steer when I was seven years old. In junior rodeo, I competed in every event except for saddle-bronc riding, but the only events I did any good at were bareback riding and bull riding. It didn’t take me long to find my path. It seemed like every bareback horse I got on yanked the dog snot out of me. I got kicked a couple times. One put me over the fence. I had another one flip over on me. I only got on twelve bareback horses, but every time I got off, I was hurting. I was getting on bulls all the time, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much.
From around the age of twelve, I realized that bull riding was going to be my thing.
Once I got out of high school, I went to college in Bozeman, Montana. I rodeoed for Montana State University under Andy Bolich. I was trying to pro-rodeo at the same time. I was going to two or three pro rodeos every weekend in the fall and having to come back and hit a couple of long rounds at the college rodeos. I was flying back and forth, back and forth. At the pro rodeos, all the guys would say, Why the heck are you doing that? Why don’t you just pro-rodeo and earn some money?
I gotta get my degree, I told them.
At some point, I had a change of heart. I was doing okay in school, but I was having way more fun rodeoing. During my first year at college, I missed qualifying for the NFR by $10,000. I ended the year ranked nineteenth. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had the dream of making the NFR and winning a world championship. I felt like I was in my prime. Something inside me kept pushing me. I needed to do my own thing and find out how far I could take it. I needed to go out and rodeo.
Besides, it’s freaking cold in the winter in Montana! It’s not nearly as cold in Texas, where the big winter rodeos are.
Freedom to Rodeo
Dropping out of school gave me the freedom to rodeo all last year. But in June I dislocated my shoulder. The doctors wanted me to sit out for two months, but I only took a few weeks off. I battled the injury all year and was still wearing a brace when I entered the NFR. I went in really confident and was surprised at how normal it all felt—the Back-Number Ceremony, the Grand Entry. It just felt like any other rodeo—until Round One.
The NFR is a fast rodeo. Normally, I don’t tie my boots on until the saddle-bronc riding starts. At the NFR, if you don’t have all your stuff on and ready to hang your rope on the bull by the saddle-bronc riding, you’re late. That first day, I tried to watch Sage and Joe Frost and all the guys who have been there a lot. I tried to do what they were doing without getting in the way.
Luckily, I was on time. But when I slid down on that first bull, and they told me there were two ahead of me, that’s when the adrenaline hit me. Chase, I thought, you’re at the National Finals Rodeo, and there are hundreds of thousands of people watching you on TV!
I was 84 points on that first ride and placed sixth. I had broken the ice.
I placed second in Round Two, had a string of no-scores and placed second again in Round Six. I won Round Seven, split first in Round Eight and placed second in Round Nine. My winnings were adding up, but I never really looked at the standings.
On the last night, bull rider Roscoe Jarboe came into the locker room.
“Well, Chase,” he said. “You’re the only one who has a shot.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re the only one who has a prayer of catching Sage. It’s a longshot, but it can be done.” The way he broke it down, if I won the round and was the only one to stay on, I’d win the average and enough money to win the world title. If I won the round and anybody other than Sage won second, it would be close. Otherwise, Sage would win his fifth straight world championship.
I tried not to let what Jarboe said get to me. That night, I was on Wall Cloud from New Frontier Rodeo, a bull that nobody had rode yet. He left the chute and made two rounds to the left, bucking his ass off. After that second time around, he felt me. I was right in the middle of him, so he dropped out of it and acted like he was going to go the other way. Instead, he bucked down the bucking chutes. They ended up marking me 83.5, which wasn’t enough to win the round. I placed third. Sage won first with a 93-point ride.
But I did win the average and a total of $209,000, enough to earn the RAM Top Gun Award. Among other things, the prize included a brand new 4-wheel drive truck. Damn, I thought, now I gotta find something else to spend my money on.
Unlucky Over the Fourth
I’ve already put 30,000 miles on my truck. I took it rodeoing all winter. With the Fourth of July run starting, I’m about to put a lot more miles on it.
I’m traveling again with my buddies Jordan Spears and Ruger Piva. Levi Gray, a young guy from Oregon, is the newest addition to our crew.
The Fourth is normally really bad for me. The most money I’ve ever won during Cowboy Christmas was $1,700 last year—but that was at two amateur rodeos. I’ll tell you more about that—and how I’m doing this year—in my next update from the road.