Sage Kimzey: My First Canadian Finals Rodeo
Sage Kimzey: My First Canadian Finals Rodeo
"I’ve always wanted to go to the CFR. The bulls are all good up there and so is the money. The hard thing is qualifying," - Sage Kimzey.
I’ve always wanted to compete in the Canadian Finals Rodeo. The bulls are good up there and so is the money. The hard thing is qualifying.
by Sage Kimzey on The Cowboy Journal
It was wet and cold this year at the Ponoka Stampede in Alberta, Canada. I was about to ride my second bull in hopes of advancing into Ponoka’s final four. My number-one priority was keeping my rope dry. When it’s raining, I need to keep my rope sticky. Otherwise, I lose my grip pretty much every time.
I’ve been entering Ponoka every year since 2015. The payout there is huge. But this year Ponoka was especially important because I was trying to make the Canadian Finals Rodeo for the first time in my career.
I’ve always wanted to compete in the CFR. The bulls are good up there and so is the money. The hard thing is qualifying. You’ve got to enter at least fifteen rodeos to even have a chance.
Getting to those Canadian rodeos can be tough, especially in the spring when you live in Texas and there are so many rodeos just a few hours down the road. Traveling north of the border is never easy or cheap. You can either drive and miss everything down here, or you can fly.
If you fly, you have to catch a 6:00 a.m. plane out of either Dallas or Austin, and you don’t get into Calgary till around noon at the earliest. If it’s a matinee performance, you’re cutting hairs whether you’re gonna get there in time. There are some weekends when, dollar for dollar, traveling to Canada doesn’t make sense. So trying to qualify for the CFR has gotta be something you really want to do.
This year, I saw my chance.
It started when I first sat down to plan my rodeo schedule. I noticed there were five Saturdays in June. Usually June is packed with Xtreme Bulls competitions and good rodeos close to home. The extra weekend in June, however, meant that those rodeos got split up. I saw a way to spend Tuesdays through Thursdays in Texas and then fly up to Canada for some weekend performances.
If I was ever gonna go hard in Canada, I told myself, this was the year to do it.
But even if you manage to enter fifteen Canadian rodeos, you still have to win enough money to make the top twelve in your event. That’s why Ponoka was so important to me.
At Ponoka, I drew a bull called Fish Camp. I saw a video of Fish Camp beforehand and knew he was good—a big, strong horned bull that really bucked. I knew I’d have to take care of my business, but I didn’t anticipate any problems.
I still felt that way in the bucking chute—as long as I kept my rope dry and sticky. But Fish Camp started jumping and kicking in the chute, and my rope got soaked. He left the gate and went out and around to the left, which is kind of what he does. He pulled me down around the corner, and I felt myself slipping. I had to put my other hand on him to keep from bucking off. He kept pulling me down. I rode a full round with two hands on him. I rode him right to the whistle and then got off and knew the ride wouldn’t count.
That left me pretty upset. I really needed a big check at Ponoka.
But I was still committed to trying to qualify for the Canadian Finals.
Seed of an Idea
In college, at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, I got to be pretty tight with a couple of Canadians—saddle-bronc rider Layton Green and bareback rider Jake Stemo. Way back when, they were trying to make their first CFR. It was always something they talked about.
At that time, Canada seemed so far away. I’d just turned eighteen and was a freshman in college and wasn’t really rodeoing full-time yet. In 2013, Layton and Jake both entered—and won—the novice events at the CFR. They’ve been CFR mainstays ever since. That was the foundation of me wanting to make the CFR one day.
The first trip I made to Canada was to Ponoka in 2015. At that time I didn’t have an international calling plan. I got off the airplane and had no way of communicating with anybody back in the States. It was a bit strange, but I made do. I made the short round at Ponoka but then didn’t do any good.
I went to the Calgary Stampede that same year. Calgary was my first chance to stay for an extended period. After the Fourth of July run, Calgary is like a week’s vacation. I loved it—and still do—even though it doesn’t count towards CFR qualification.
Over time, I gradually started going to more Canadian rodeos. The rodeo in Strathmore, Alberta, became a one-header, which made it easier to fit into my travel schedule. I started going to Wainright, Alberta, and Armstrong, British Columbia—a total of around four or five rodeos each year—but I never thought I could get to enough rodeos to make the CFR.
I’m good friends with bareback rider Caleb Bennett. He kept telling me, Man, you ought to try to make it up to the Canadian Finals. It’s good money, and they have good, good bulls. It’s a great time.
Generally speaking, it seems like the bulls in Canada are bigger than the ones in the States. They definitely buck hard, but they’re real user-friendly—again, generally speaking. It’s no secret that bull riding is the favorite event among spectators. There aren’t that many bull riders in Canada, so the stock contractors do a good job of supplying consistently good bulls to keep the riders coming back.
I finally took Caleb’s advice to heart.
Reaching My Goal
I ended up making about six or seven trips to Canada this year. I got it planned out to where I mostly went to two or three rodeos in a weekend. They have a lot more Sunday perfs in Canada, so that helped.
I mostly took commercial flights. Once this past year, I flew on a private charter to Williams Lake, British Columbia, with a few other guys. If I was ever traveling in my RV, I sometimes stopped at the border and rented a car. You’re usually on a tight time schedule, and the customs guys never mess with a rental car. A car is also a lot easier, especially if you’re driving through the mountains. Shoot, what you spend on the rental car you save on fuel.
I had quite a few good outcomes up there to make up for Ponoka. I entered sixteen rodeos in all and won around thirty thousand dollars. I finished third in the bull riding. So, at the end of this month, you’ll see me in Red Deer, Alberta, trying to win a Canadian gold buckle.
I’m recovering from a late-summer injury. In August at Kennewick, Washington, a bull slammed me in front of the chutes and knocked me out. I landed on my arm and fractured a couple of ribs and separated the cartilage from a few more ribs. But I really wanted to finish out the summer run. The deal is, we don’t come home from Reno until after the Pendleton Round-Up in mid-September. I had to keep getting on. I just kind of fought them all the way through until Pendleton. I won Pendleton, so it paid off, for sure.
After that I doctored out for two weeks. My ribs heeled. I’m good to go now.
Like I said, I finished the regular season ranked third in the bull riding in Canada. This will be the first time in my career that I’ll be going into a finals competition with a deficit. All six times I’ve qualified for the National Finals Rodeo, I finished the regular season ranked first.
The CFR gets underway on October 29. As much as I want to win the Canadian title, I just want to go up there and get on good bulls and remember the reason I’m doing it.
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