Gale qualifies for National High School Finals Rodeo Casey Gale,17, a Vermillion High School senior, has qualified for bareback competition in the National High School Finals Rodeo July 22-29 in Springfield, IL. Above, he rides in the South Dakota High School Rodeo Finals at Rapid City, where he placed third. He won both regional rodeos in Winner and Watertown earlier this summer. (Johnny's Photo) by M. Jill Karolevitz Casey Gale has come a long way since the first belt buckle he won at age 3 for mutton bustin' at the Bison Easy Ridin' Rodeo in 1987.
The 17-year-old Vermillion High School senior has qualified for bareback competition in the National High School Finals Rodeo July 22-29 in Springfield, IL.
After winning in both regional rodeos at Winner and Watertown earlier this year, Gale rode in the South Dakota High School Rodeo Finals at Rapid City last month.
"You have to be in the top 10 in both regionals to qualify for state," he said. "In order to go to the nationals, you have to be in the top four at state."
Gale placed third.
Riding younger horses in Winner and Watertown, Gale was well prepared for his rides in Rapid City. He earned second place in his first two go-rounds, but he still held the lead in points � then came the short go-round challenge.
"I drew a horse called Satan," Gale said. "I knew he was a strong horse � I'd been on him before and he throws a lot of power and has bucked a lot of guys off. I got him rode, but I missed the mark-out and no-scored the ride."
Despite the judge's view that Gale didn't have his spurs over the point of the horse's shoulders as he left the chute (the mark-out), the young cowboy from Vermillion ended up third in the average, but won the high-point.
Gale calls it one of his highest achievements.
"My greatest accomplishment in rodeo has been to qualify in bareback for state in all the three years that I've been in high school rodeo," he said. "You just have to ride every horse one at a time and stay focused. Then this year to qualify for the national team � that's something I've tried to do ever since I started in bareback."
Gale will be accompanied to nationals by his mom and dad, Loretta and Kelly. His sisters, Melissa, 19, Delayna, 15, and Kayla, 11 � all of whom rodeo, too � will also go.
"We try to rodeo as a family," said Gale's dad.
Gale was born in Hettinger, ND, and spent the first years of his life on a ranch near Bison. His family moved to Vermillion five years ago.
"I've grown up around horses, cattle, ranching and roping," Gale said, explaining his love for rodeo. "I don't remember not knowing how to ride."
By age 3, he knew he didn't want to sit and watch the rodeos his family attended in a regular basis � he wanted to participate.
From mutton bustin' to steer riding, bulls, saddle bronc, team roping and bareback, Gale has done it all in 4-H and high school rodeo competition. He has won numerous belt buckles for several events and took first place in the teen division of Vermillion's 1999 Bullarama and second place last year. He also competed in and placed second in this year's Match of Champions, where the top two high school cowboys from Wyoming and South Dakota compete against each other.
Gale has had lots of encouragement, along with role models to follow, as he pursues his rodeo experiences. His dad rodeoed on the amateur circuit, competing in bareback, bulls, bulldogging and roping.
"I just hope I can ride as good as he did," the younger Gale said.
His father matched the compliment.
"Don't let him fool you. He rides as good as I ever did and that's the best thing I could ask for," he said about his son.
Gale also credits Bob and Marty Barnes of the Barnes Rodeo School in Cherokee, IA.
"I've gone to three of their rodeo schools and they've shown me how tough horses can be so I can get a feeling for them," Gale said. "And if I need practice, I always have a helping hand with them."
Brian Young, a bareback rider from Nebraska, found Gale a new bareback riggin' and worked with the young cowboy on a bucking machine. Rodeo cowboys Mark and Marvin Garrett from Belle Fourche are others who have inspired Gale.
"This year at the Belle Fourche Roundup, they saw the horse I was on get wild in the chute," Gale said. "They jumped in and helped calm the horse so I could stay focused and ride."
Fellow high school rodeo buddies, Colin Greenfield of Beresford, and Danny Fischer of Viborg, also have high marks in Gale's book.
"Colin got me into high school rodeo and helps me keep a positive attitude," Gale said. "And Danny, my roping partner, always has his head on straight. He keeps me motivated."
Just as mental stamina is important in rodeo, it's a sport of physical strength as well. In that light, cowboys and cowgirls are true athletes. Gale stays in shape by doing sit ups, throwing bales and lifting buckets of feed, along with practice rodeos and informal competition.
Balance, learning to read a horse's motion through his legs and working with the animal's rhythm are also keys to a successful ride � which involves more than just staying on for eight seconds. Cowboys are also judged on mark-outs and spurring during the ride. The horse is given points, too, for its performance in the arena. It all adds up as the rider bear-hugs the pickup man for a dismount and waits for the judge's score.
With all that to think about, Gale is confident as he prepares for the nationals.
"I feel like I'm setting good going into the finals," he said. "But I know I'm fortunate to be on the team. South Dakota is one of the best rodeo states in the country and has a lot of good riders who didn't make it and could have. I just know I have to ride every horse jump for jump, but if something goes wrong I have to get back up and look on the bright side."