Bareback Champion

It must not be a superstition among cowboys to not talk about their injuries, because when he’s asked, Jake Vold reels off some of the many he’s incurred. It’s a long list.

“It happens lots,” Vold says. “I’ve broken my arm a few times. I’ve broken my leg. I’ve broken some ribs, my wrist. Sometimes you get in a bad wreck. But the older you get I guess you learn how to save yourself in a bad situation or avoid a bad situation.”

A healthy 2014 brought the 27-year-old Airdrie resident his best year in the tough world of professional rodeo. He finished the year as the top bareback rider in Canada and also placed in the top 10 in the world when he won a bundle at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas in December.

The born-and-raised Ponoka man has been an Airdrie resident since moving here with his girlfriend, who is from the Calgary area, in summer 2013. When he’s not on the road trying to make a living Vold can be spotted in town in the white pickup truck he received for the 2014 Canadian bareback title – the truck that has his name and title painted on both sides.

Vold’s story follows a path similar to others in the rodeo business in that he was born into it. His father rode bareback, his grandfather competed in saddle bronc and his mother was a barrel racer.

“We grew up around it, that’s for sure,” he says.

The rodeo event that doesn’t require a saddle became a comfortable fit for him early on.

“Right off the get-go bareback riding was my forte,” Vold says. “It’s what I wanted to do, ride saddle bronc and bareback horses. The bronc riding wasn’t panning out for me and I didn’t want to keep paying the entry fee and not winning as much. With bareback I was fairly strong at a young age, I guess.”

It’s not an easy business, both physically and mentally. In order to make a living, cowboys have to travel constantly, all the while knowing that there’s no guaranteed paycheque waiting for them, but merely the possibility of hard, potentially bone-crunching falls.

“The costs are unbelievable, especially now with the price of gas and even plane tickets,” Vold says. “I remember even five or six years ago (plane) tickets were half the price they are now.

“If you don’t win you don’t get paid,” he adds. “A lot of guys have other jobs.”

Nobody was better at bareback in Canada last year than Vold. His 12 victories in one season are believed to be a Canadian record. They carried him to the lead heading into the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton in early November, where he locked up the Canadian title with $63,621 in winnings.

“I had a phenomenal year in Canada last year,” he says. “I went to 29 rodeos and placed in 25. It was just one of those years where I drew really good horses and if I drew a bad horse it worked. I was placing on horses that guys don’t usually place on.

“It’s kind of carried on to this year,” Vold adds. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m a little bit smarter I guess. I always say you learn how to do it, you learn how to get good at it and then you learn how to win at it.”

Also in 2014, Vold became the first Canadian since Dusty LaValley in 2011 to qualify in bareback for the NFR, the Super Bowl of rodeo if you will. He entered the Las Vegas event ranked 11th but placed in eight of 10 rounds to win $74,988 and move him up to sixth in the year-end world standings with $142,774 won.

What was the difference? Along with experience, previous health issues played a role. Since 2011 various injuries cost Vold a lot of time – a broken leg, broken collarbone and a fractured right arm among them. As recently as 2013, he tore the ligaments in his left elbow, which cost him several months.

Not to worry, though. “It’s a tough job but I can literally say I love what I do,” he says.

The cost of travelling to rodeos south of the border and the uncertain pay is what prevents a lot of Canadians from attempting to make it a full-time gig. A lot of time is spent in such places as Texas and Arizona in the winter, and in the summer there’s a lot of hopping back and forth between there and Canada.

One of the events Vold will be sure not to miss is the Airdrie Pro Rodeo, which is scheduled for June 27 to July 1 at the Airdrie Rodeo Grounds. It’s part of what’s known as Cowboy Christmas, a stretch in the summer when the largest number of rodeos are held and the most money is on the table.

“I’ll usually enter six to eight but you can enter up to 15, 16 in that week,” says Vold, who split second and third money last year in Airdrie for a $2,492.18 payout from an 84-point ride.

At the peak of his career, Vold remains committed to riding as much as he can and wherever he can for the foreseeable future.

“If I can get a few more years of rodeoing hard, then have a couple of good years in Canada, I’ll be happy,” he says.

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