Clay Ullery, 28, who is heading for Badlands Circuit contender Matt Zancanella, won the Wall (South Dakota) Celebration rodeo with a 5.4-second run, worth $1,090 a man, and the Championship PRCA Rodeo in Steele, North Dakota, with a 4.6-second run, worth $872 a man. Ullery, from Valleyview, Alberta, Canada, claimed the Maple Leaf Circuit, but is trailing the Badlands Circuit with hopes of earning enough money to qualify for the winter rodeos in 2022.
Kaitlin Gustave: You seem to be having some success in the Badlands Circuit, especially after two wins in the circuit last weekend. What were your runs in Steele and Wall like?
Clay Ullery: Wall was just a real easy rodeo—7-flat was winning it. We just tried to catch them. We had a really good steer and ended up being fast enough. The steers were all pretty slow at Steele, and there were a few 4-second runs. We went at them more and the steer was slow enough that it was a pretty easy run.
KG: And you’re roping with Matt Zancanella, who is No.1 in the Badlands circuit heeling standings. How did that come about?
CU: He had called me this spring. I needed a partner for Guymon (Oklahoma), and he asked me what I was doing for the summer. I didn’t really have any plans because I didn’t know if they were going to have rodeos in Canada or not. I wanted to come up here, ease around and get qualified for next year.
KG: What circuit did you designate?
CU: I still have the Maple Leaf Circuit.
KG: How did you make the decision to declare the Maple Leaf Circuit? There haven’t really been any rodeos up there.
CU: Why I chose to do it again is because I got to go to Kissimmee (Florida, for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo) off of one co-approved rodeo last year. I went with the Maple Leaf Circuit thinking I could do that again. I had tried to change it when I was going to rope with Matt, and I appealed it and everything, but they don’t let you change it very easily.
KG: Now when you’re in the States, do you stay at the Zancanellas, or where is your home spot in between rodeos?
CU: This summer, we’ve been coming back to Matt’s probably two days a week. We’ve been entering a fair amount outside of the circuit.
KG: You were No. 1 in 2020 in the Canadian Circuit with $1,294.85 and Levi Simpson was second with $954.10 in earnings. How strange of a year was that for Canadians?
CU: It was really weird. All of it was weird. It was definitely quite a bit different than anything I’ve seen. They didn’t let Levi go (to Kissimmee) because there was no other heeler qualified. It was a weird year.
KG: As a Canadian, what challenges have you faced with trying to rodeo during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there any you face today?
CU: For one, I had pretty much gone to all rodeos that I hadn’t gone to before. I base in Canada and go to the big stuff down here that I can fit. Last winter, when COVID happened, I had $32,000 won and planned on going on my route that I usually go during the summertime, and I wasn’t able to do that.
This year was kind of stressful to make a plan, too, because no one knew if it was going to be the same type of summer that it was last summer, where everyone was going to the same rodeos. That also led to my decision on what I was going to do this year because I knew they were going to have rodeos over here, where Zanc is at.
KG: In 2020, you won Fort Worth with Jake Edwards, with whom you had never roped. Do you ever look back on that win? Are there any feelings attached to it?
CU: It was a big opportunity. By the time the year wound down, I was 17th (in the PRCA World Standings). It was kind of a letdown to get that big of a jump on them and not be able to seal the deal. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so learn from it and keep getting better.
KG: You were just shy of qualifying for your first NFR in 2020. When you realized you were just out of qualifying, was that heartbreaking for you, or did it give you more drive knowing that it is attainable?
CU: Both. When it all wound down, I just didn’t have a doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to get bumped. At that point, it was probably heartbreaking, but it gave me a lot more drive. I had a lot more stuff that happened outside of the COVID stuff last year. Both of my good rodeo horses went down before the end of July. I was lucky that JR Dees helped me and let me ride his horse. There was a lot of adversity that I went through last year. It was the stuff that makes you grow.
Learn more about JR Dees: The Jr. Dees Story
KG: What happened to your horses?
CU: My good sorrel horse got EPM at the end of 2019, so I battled that. I tried to ride him over the Fourth of July last year and he got sick. I sent him home. Then the bay horse that I won Fort Worth on, he just got hurt—wasn’t sound—so I sent him home, too. They’re both back now and it’s sure making rodeoing a lot easier. When I won Fort Worth, I really thought nothing could go wrong. Then it kind of got turned upside down there for a minute, but that’s part of the game.
KG: Now, you’re 43rd in the PRCA World Standings. Are you even looking at that yet, or concerned about it?
CU: I’m not really trying to look at it too much. I have a general number of what I think it’s going to take and what we have to win. We’re entered in enough stuff that we are giving ourselves a chance. A person is always rodeoing to try to make the NFR, but our main goal is to get qualified for next winter.
KG: You mentioned you have both of your rodeo horses back in action. What horses do you have in the rig this year.
CU: I’m riding my good horse Skeeter. He’s 11 years old. I rode him at the Canadian Finals in 2018 and 2019. He’s just real honest and scores good every time. He’s super-fast. The horse that I’ve been riding as a backup is one of Matt’s horses. His name is Hippie. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s been around for a while. He is good and honest. The third string horse is the one I won Fort Worth on. His name is Kid. We haven’t needed to use him yet, but he’s standing there ready if we have to.
KG: You wouldn’t be able to catch steers without a Fast Back Rope, right? What rope and lay are you swinging? What do you like about it?
CU: I’ve been using the Cobalt, XXS, for about eight months. My favorite part about it is the weight and how you can feel the tip. I like the consistency of it. I don’t really like to change my ropes. I order all of my ropes as XXS Cobalts, and I don’t worry about them. I’m not as much of a rope snob like a lot of people, so I use my ropes quite a bit. I have about four to six ropes in my rope bag that are broke in and ready to go. I try to break a couple in every time we’re at home to take a couple out of the bag and get some new ones in there. If it’s a morning rodeo, afternoon or evening rodeo, I usually know which rope I’m going to grab. I don’t really have to swing through them every day.
KG: If there ever is a bad run, how do you deal with it? What keeps you motivated?
CU: I tell Zanc this all the time: It really bothers me when I don’t do my job. It doesn’t bother me at all when my partner doesn’t do their job. I know they are trying and they feel the same way that I do when I mess up. If I feel like I did my job and it didn’t work, it doesn’t bother me. I can get in the truck and act as if we won first. If I don’t do my job, I do get hard on myself like it was a mental mistake—if I wasn’t mentally prepared. There are things that happen rodeoing. You have to get good at letting go of those runs. I always say all the time that it’s all windshield, no rearview—look forward, not back.