Diné cowboy and rodeo champ JaCauy Hale stopped by on the eve of his first Arizona Ridge Riders season kick-off to talk bull riding, keeping a clear head, and staying true to his Indigenous heritage.

Anna Lopinto | Cowboys & Indians

22-year-old JaCauy Hale is a rising talent in professional bull riding. As the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) 2023 reigning champion, the Diné cowboy is one of the top 50 professional bull riders in the world. Hale is among the most recent additions to the Arizona Ridge Riders’ coveted roster. On the eve of the 2024 Ridge Riders season kick-off, we sat down with Hale to chat about his cowboy childhood in Arizona, his Indigenous heritage, and what it takes to be a great bull rider.

C&I: You are from Ganado, Arizona, and the Ridge Riders are based in Glendale. What was it like growing up in the Southwest?
JaCauy Hale: It’s a pretty good place to grow up. I live in a small town where everybody knows everybody. There are a lot of trees and hills. It’s peaceful, and you have your privacy. I can get on a horse and ride about 10 miles and not even see a single person. I like that.

C&I: Not only are you a bull rider, but you are also an accomplished roper and horseman. What got you interested in this profession?
Hale: I was born into a rodeo family. I wanted to rodeo before I could even walk. As a kid, I would throw a Woody doll on my back and buck around the living room like a bull.

C&I: So cowboying and rodeoing is a big part of your family lineage?
Hale: Yes, and we’re still at it. Our family owns bucking horses; we have about 50 head. Some of our family has cattle that we tend to. My grandparents always had sheep. When I was small, I would go into the corral, rope the sheep, and ride them. I’d get myself in trouble with my grandparents [laughs]. My uncle had bucking bulls, and my mother had roping steers. As a kid I was always horseback and around cattle. Right now I’m teaching my nephew to ride sheep.

C&I: You are a part of the Navajo Nation. How has that shaped your experience as a bull rider?
Hale: I’d say it helped because Navajos are pretty crazy about rodeo and bull riding. There’s an event every weekend. I could drive an hour from my house and ride something or go to a rodeo. It’s a big part of our livelihood, and we have a connection with animals.

C&I: You’ve had a pretty amazing trajectory with bull riding, competing in the INFR, and now riding in the PBR. On May 29 in Nashville, you were drafted to the Arizona Ridge Riders team. How did that feel, and how is it working with the PBR veterans on the team?
Hale: It was really exciting. And coming from Arizona, being picked on an Arizona team was a privilege — just that feeling of “I’ve made it.” We are like a big family, and many of them are my mentors. I’ve already had a lot of good talks, and they’ve given me advice on what I’m doing well and where I can improve.

C&I: What advice would you give to aspiring bull riders?
Hale: Always believe in yourself. The three big keys to success are to believe in yourself, put in the work, and have faith. I say that to myself every day.

C&I: Those are great guiding principles. How do you prepare yourself for riding a bull?
Hale: I mentally prepare even before the event. I treat everything — including my workouts — like riding a bull; you don’t give up until the end. During the week, I will go for a long run. I’ll ride the barrel, ride my horses, sprint hills, and lift weights. Mentally, I go in with a clear mind. I tell myself it’s just 8 seconds. But of course, it’s more than that; you should really ride for at least 12 seconds. But I remind myself to keep it simple, to take deep breaths.

C&I: You’ve shared that you spend a lot of time outdoors. Why is that a priority for you?
Hale: I don’t like staring at a TV or looking at my phone all day. I like being outside, and I like nature. Sometimes, I just love to go on walks and enjoy myself. I’ll try to watch the sunset. It’s pretty peaceful here, and it’s good for my mind.

C&I: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from being a cowboy? What has it taught you?
Hale: Trust the process and enjoy the journey. Love every moment of it, even the highs and lows. Know that you’re still growing and learning at whatever you want to do.

C&I: You’re preparing for the Arizona Ridge Riders kick-off party on June 29. What are you looking forward to most this season and with this team?
Hale: Being on the Arizona Ridge Riders and competing at the PBR is a big accomplishment. I’m fortunate I made it to the World Finals, too. It’s all been a lifelong dream of mine. I think the best way to describe it is that it’s like when you go for a run in our Arizona mountains and come to the top of a peak. You look down into the valley and look back on what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done. It’s a good feeling. I’m loving life.

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