Riding with a plan
Two years ago when Dusty Hausauer flew back to North Dakota for the Champions Ride saddle bronc match, he watched intently as one of his former high school teammates, a little-known amateur bronc rider who grew up in the Badlands, impressed professionals and veteran cowboys with his skills in the arena.
That's when Hausauer's expectations for Clay Schaeffer grew.
"He can compete with everybody," Hausauer said.
Schaeffer, the 2008 North Dakota Rodeo Association saddle bronc riding champion, will compete at the Champions Ride for the third consecutive year today at the Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte.
The Champions Ride is just another step in Schaeffer's long-term goal of moving up to the professional ranks as early as next winter.
"I've just been focusing on riding good," Schaeffer said. "... I'd like to win the NDRA again. If I do great. I've just been trying to save up money for next year, and keep improving my riding."
The 25-year-old Medora resident and New England High School graduate filled his PRCA permit this summer with a 79-point ride at the Wolf Point (Mont.) Wild Horse Stampede.
The ride completed the first part of Schaeffer's journey back into rodeo after spending more than three years away from the sport.
After doing well in high school and local rodeos when he was younger, Schaeffer stepped away from rodeo in 2004.
He just couldn't stay away though.
"I just got to craving it I guess," Schaeffer said.
After getting back on broncs in 2007 and going to a Jess Martin bronc riding school the following spring, Schaeffer took the NDRA by storm in the summer of 2008. He won several rodeos en route to his first season championship, which he had wrapped up by August.
This summer, Schaeffer has balanced his time between amateur rodeos -- entering the weekend he was second in the NDRA standings -- and the PRCA Badlands and Montana Circuits. And he's doing it all after rehabbing a broken leg suffered while breaking colts during January.
While the injury set Schaeffer back a bit -- he didn't fare well the first couple weeks of June -- he's bounced back from it fully, riding consistently since the beginning of July and is on track to pursue the goals he had in mind when the year began.
"After this year, I'm just going to do pro rodeos," Schaeffer said. "I'm going to try and hit it pretty hard next year and go for the NFR (National Finals Rodeo)."
Schaeffer said he envisions riding broncs year-round for the next four years.
"It kind of depends on how long I can physically take it," he said.
That plan includes heading south for the winter and hitting the numerous rodeos held in Texas and New Mexico from January through March.
When Hausauer delved into the pro circuit, he did the same thing and said the numerous rodeos can help a rider improve quickly.
"There's so many of them," said Hausauer, who was teammates with Schaeffer on the Dickinson High club team. "You can get on every day. You can get into kind of a rhythm in a way where it makes it a really good experience."
Former professional bronc rider and Sentinel Butte native Don Tescher, who happens to be Schaeffer's uncle, said he sees unlimited potential when he watches his nephew and is quick to point out Schaeffer's main strength is his form.
"He keeps his shoulders back and he lifts his rein well," Tescher said.
Since Tescher lives in Sheridan, Wyo., Schaeffer typically speaks with him over the phone when he's in need of a pointer.
"What I mostly try to tell him is things I learned," Tescher said. "What I did right and what I did wrong, some of the mistakes I made that I wish I hadn't and some of the things I did right that I'm glad I did.
"I try to treat Clay like it's me doing it. I love helping a kid that's open-minded and Clay is open-minded, wanting to learn."
After scoring a 79-point ride Saturday night at a Montana Circuit rodeo in Plentywood, Mont., Schaeffer heads home today to take another step in that learning process at the Champions Ride, an event he said gives him a chance to earn more respect amongst top bronc riders as he ventures into his professional career.
"It's just an honor to be invited," Schaeffer said. "... It boosts my confidence when I can go and rub elbows with them guys. It does show me that I can compete at that top level."