Ky Bray admits he’s not your stereotypical cowboy.
He’s a team roping header, and he’s an English major at Tarleton State University. He plans on staying in Stephenville long enough to get a master’s degree, and he hopes to one day earn a doctorate in psychology.
Before any of that, though, is the 2018 College National Finals Rodeo. He finished the 10-event 2017-18 regular season in ninth place among team roping headers and is accompanying the regional champion Tarleton men’s team to the June 8-16 rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
This year marks his first time to qualify for the CNFR, though he competed in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region for two seasons with Ranger College before coming to Tarleton. At Ranger, he was the 2016 winner of the team’s Academic Excellence Award.
He grew up in Huckabay, where he played basketball before beginning his rodeo odyssey.
“I’ve been around that environment since I was 2 or 3 years old,” he said. “My first roping, I was 9. It was at Lone Star Arena. I didn’t miss, but my heeler did. I was nervous as all get out. I kind of closed my eyes and threw. It just somehow caught.”
After Ranger, he considered going away to complete his education, but Tarleton’s rodeo reputation kept him close to home.
“Once I weighed everything, there was no other option if I wanted to rodeo,” he said. “This is the best rodeo program in the nation, by far. It’s also the best rodeo environment as far as the city of Stephenville. There are so many opportunities to get better around here.”
He took full advantage of the opportunity this season, finishing in the top six in four rodeos, including a win at Texas Tech and a third at his former college home, Ranger.
Even though he’s getting ready for his first CNFR experience, he’s confident heading to Casper.
“I like roping in little buildings,” he said. “I always do well, and that’s a small building there. I feel good about my chances. I’m sure before I rope my first steer I’m going to be a little nervous, but it’ll be good nerves. It’s by far the biggest stage I’ve ever roped on.”
To battle the jitters that come with CNFR pressures, he plans to spend as much time in the saddle as he can leading to Casper.
“I’ll practice a lot at home, but what I’m planning to do is enter as many rodeos as I can, go to as many different set-ups as I can,” Bray said. “Every arena is different. It’s not like playing basketball, where everything is the exact same wherever you play. If I get used to going that much, getting as many runs in competition as I can, maybe it will seem like just another rodeo.”
He will be paired with Ranger College heeler Weston Podzemny, who took fourth in the region with a win at Big Spring and a third at Lubbock.
With an eye on becoming Dr. Bray, Ky is considering the options that come with a Ph.D. in psychology.
I’ve thought about a clinical practice, also about teaching at the university level, maybe research or forensic psychology,” he said.
Not yet, though.
“I’ve got three years to answer that question. Once I graduate college, if I’m prepared and have the skillset, I would go rodeo a while and come back for my doctorate.”
Maybe there will be a display case for a CNFR championship buckle in his office.