Photo by Covy Moore / CovyMoore.com

RED DEER, Alberta — Knowing when to call it a day on a pro sports career is never an easy decision. For many athletes, doing it on their own terms is a priority. But sometimes the body doesn’t accommodate that wish.

Kyle Bowers is one of pro rodeo’s steadfast stars. His bareback riding career has spanned nearly two decades and includes three Canadian championships, plus two novice bareback titles as well. The cowboy raised in Brooks qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo fifteen times, and made it to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo twice.

He’s been examined and adjusted and taped from tip to toe, and there probably aren’t many parts that haven’t had some kind of pain.

And now his body is telling him it’s time to put his rigging away.

When his arm went numb during a ride at the Ponoka Stampede this summer, Bowers thought that may have been his last ride. But in typical fashion, he made yet another comeback, treating fans at the Curtis Glencross Charity Roughstock Event in Red Deer to one more great ride.

“I don’t want it to be (the last) but I guess age catches up to all of us,” said the 41-year-old.

“Well, I’m still not saying it’s my age,” he corrected himself. “It’s just an injury I can’t get over.

“I probably should’ve been done last year, but I just couldn’t do it. I took time off and tried to get as healthy as I could. I came back this year and was actually feeling not bad, and then at Ponoka Stampede, everything came back to square one.

“I kind of said I was done there, but I couldn’t live with myself because I jumped off that last horse. I’m too stubborn to go out that way, so this Glencross invitational came up, and I’ve been here pretty much every year since it’s first year. I really enjoy it. It’s an awesome event. I got to thinking if I’m going to go out, I want to go out at least enjoying it. I could come here and have fun, hopefully spur one.”

That’s exactly what Bowers did, snapping out an 86 on Walleye Rocket. He would’ve been satisfied with that as a finale, but the score was high enough to get him back to the short round for another horse. This time he was matched up with Dibs, and after a bad chute exit, his old arm problems reared again, so he didn’t make the whistle.

“I still spurred one on my last day, so if this is it, at least I can go out happy,” Bowers said.

“Call it a day on that, and maybe call it a career.”

Which brings pause for reflection on his rodeo days.

“I’ve had an awesome career. It’s been a long career,” Bowers said. “There’s not a lot of bareback riders had any longer. I’ve talked with a few guys about it over the summer, and I think I’ve rode with three different ‘generations’ of cowboys, which is pretty amazing.”

There were the likes of Bill Boyd and Darrell Cholach when he cracked out, the Jake Vold, Matt Lait era ‘in the middle’ and now he’s been riding alongside cowboys like Cole Goodine and Michael Solberg.

His impact is evident. After hearing about Bowers’ pending departure, Kody Lamb was quick to pay tribute on social media, calling him “one of my heroes and idols”. “Honored to have ridden alongside Kyle,” he added.

“It’s been pretty awesome to see the veterans of the sport like Davey Shields, learn from them and then have the time to pass some stuff on to the kids nowadays. I don’t how you can get a better career than that… unless you’re Scott Schiffner,” Bowers said, grinning wryly.

When it comes to those three Canadian bareback crowns, the 2008 one probably ranks as the most emotional victory. When Bowers left Las Vegas in 2005, he knew something wasn’t quite right. While he managed to ride through the next year, by the end of 2006 he could barely walk. The nerve-related problem carried into 2007.

“I spent a whole year chasing it, and trying to figure it out,” Bowers said. “I got off my first horse at the Calgary Stampede, and I heard the announcer say ‘this could possibly be the last time you see this cowboy walking out of the arena’. That didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t like it.”

After the ride, Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine pioneer Dale Butterwick walked up to Bowers and personally took him to an osteopath (who was off on maternity leave) who treated him in her living room. Daily treatments after each of his Stampede rides led to him being pain free by the fourth round, and he’s never been bothered by that injury again.

“I can never thank Sports Medicine enough. That’s eleven years ago now,” Bowers said. “When that announcer said this could be the last time seeing me, and to go on the next two years and win two Canadian titles back to back, that’s obviously one of my greatest accomplishments and one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Along with talent, drive, desire, Bowers also has a high degree of ‘stubborn’ which kept him in the rigging longer than anyone but he imagined.

“I don’t like to quit,” Bowers admitted. “That’s why I had to come here today. I couldn’t quit on a downslope on Ponoka. I’ve got to be happy now.

“When the body’s done, it’s done, and that’s all there is to it. We only have so many spare parts, so they can’t keep putting them in.”

With a baby on the way and his oilfield related business in Drayton Valley, Bowers has plenty to look forward to in the next chapter of his life. Yet he remains very grateful for all this sport has meant to him for so long.

“Rodeo has given me everything.” Bowers said. “I’ve been doing this since I was four years old. Actually, I think I fell off my first horse when I was a year old, to tell you the truth. I’ve had an amazing life. I’ve gone all over North America. I’ve put on as many miles down the road, seeing as much countryside as any cowboy going. I’ve had as much fun, and met so many people.”

Bowers has always appreciated his fans, so it was only fitting he encounter a longtime follower at Red Deer, who came up and shook his hand enthusiastically, thanking him for having such a great career to watch. That was the icing on the cake for a fulfilling evening.

“This whole charity event for Glencross is amazing. This is what rodeo is about. We’re for family, about family, and it is a family. That’s all there is to it.

“Ps… If I figure out a way to keep getting on. You can dang well bet I’ll be in the practice pen,” Bowers added on Facebook.

Ironically, another legendary cowboy who is on the retirement trail continued his winning ways in Red Deer. Since bull rider Scott Schiffner announced his intentions to put away the bull rope and focus on family, at the Calgary Stampede, he’s ridden every one of the few remaining bulls on his wind-up agenda. That included both his draws at the Glencross event, where he marked 88 on both Buckington, and in the short go PandaHAUS, to claim the honors.

Also riding away with a one-year lease on a Dodge 1500 Ram Sport pickup from Mountain View Dodge this year was Cole Goodine for bareback riding, marking an 88 on Wanaka Rocket in the short round. For the second year in a row, Layton Green won the truck in the saddle bronc riding, on Wallstreet, with 87 points. The Seventh Annual Glencross Invitational Charity Roughstock Event raised around another $200,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta and the Hockey Alberta Foundation’s Every Kid Every Community Program.

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