One of the hardest working rodeo cowboys on the trail has earned a steer wrestling spot at the Canadian Finals Rodeo this year.
But for Travis Reay, the journey to Rexall Place has been a long one.
When he earned the Rookie of the Year honours in pro rodeo in 2009, Reay had already logged countless miles, pursuing his dream at just about any rodeo they’d let him enter.
“Most of the amateur rodeos are from Friday to Sunday, so I went to everything,” stated Reay, who ranches with his Mom west of Mayerthorpe. “I’d do close to 100 rodeos a year, from B.C. to Manitoba, in three events.”
“I was dabbling in the pro rodeos, but it’s tough to run a farm and only be home three days a week.”
Reay rode broncs, wrestled steers and did team roping, and had considerable success. He’s vague on the actual number of titles he’s earned, but does know he’s got 56 trophy saddles in his collection!
“I’ve rodeoed really hard since I was about 12 years old. I’ve used the same horse trailer since 1998, and there’s probably no other trailer in rodeo with more miles on it than mine.”
Ever since he first rode sheep and steers as a youngster, Reay knew what he wanted to do. So at the age of 30, he committed to a pro rodeo schedule in hopes of making the CFR.
“I’ve been on the bubble since 2009. Just one steer away, it seems.”
Last year, Reay hit a crossroads. He finished the season in 13th spot, where 12 qualify, missing Edmonton by just a couple hundred dollars. But he also suffered a serious injury at the last rodeo of the season in Hanna, and had to make some tough decisions.
“I ripped the bicep off my arm in Hanna last year, so I had to decide if I wanted to do surgery and take six months off, or let it heal on its own.”
Reay opted to skip surgery, but knew the alternative would take a lot of hard work.
“So I practiced all winter long, and went to the gym every day. I also quit riding broncs. I thought I should stay healthy for the event I figured I was better in.”
Reay has a place in the Canadian cowboy community in Maricopa, Arizona, and hooked up with buddies down there for the gym workout routines; and fellow all-around hand Jeremy Harden for bulldogging practice three times a week.
It was a strategy that paid off as Reay came back to the Canadian rodeo scene this spring, healthy and strong.
“I always thought I was tough, but found out in the gym that I wasn’t as strong as I thought. I worked as hard as I did all winter to get my strength back, and to get sharp and focused. If you don’t make the CFR, the year can be a wash. You’re not reaching the goal, and getting to where you need to be.”
The 33-year-old took care of that business early this season, winning his first steer wrestling cheque in Grande Prairie in June.
“I was steady throughout the year. I placed at most of the Tour rodeos, and some of the smaller ones as well. The $3,000 I won at Innisfail really got the ball rolling.”
“When I won Medicine Hat late this summer, it put me in the spot where I wanted to be (in the top 12). It was sure nice to be in that position going into the last weekend. Every year since 2009, I was the guy on the bubble trying to get there. So it was a pretty relaxing week before for me, knowing they couldn’t really touch me.”
Reay finished the season ninth in the Canadian steer wrestling standings, with almost $15,000 in earnings.
After being part of the CFR in 1998 as a novice saddle bronc rider, Reay pledged to himself he wouldn’t go back to Edmonton until he’d earned his way there.
“I did slide in and watch one round last year, because I had a bucking horse called Reay Bay out in one go-round. But I’ve kind of tried to stay away.”
Reay is preparing for his CFR debut by practicing, to stay sharp.
“I’m going to try to win every time I nod my head. It’s pretty tight in the standings this year. Basically, whoever wins the first round will go to first place in Canada. I just want to be consistent and throw the six steers as fast as I can.”
Reay admits he’s excited about going to Edmonton, but he’s also encouraged.
“It’s something that’s been a goal of mine since I turned pro, well, since I was a little kid. I’ve wanted to be the best I can, and I’m relieved I finally made it to the CFR.”