This season’s All-Around title race in the International Professional Rodeo Association is just about as close as it can get. It’s as international as it […]
On The Trail with Wacey Schalla
Written by: Julie Carter< Back to Articles
[ “I try to not over think it too much. I stay pretty mentally focused. I don’t let things distract me a whole lot.” ]
He’s racking up titles, stacking up prizes, pocketing checks while keeping his eyes focused on the future with the same determination he has when he nods his head in the chute. Wacey Schalla, 17, is no stranger to competition and for most his life has been no stranger to the top of the results board.
The talented “roughie” from Arapaho, Okla., won the 2023 National High School Rodeo Finals All Around and Bull Riding championships in Gillette on a recent Saturday night. By Wednesday he was back in Oklahoma at the Lazy E ready to ride to defend his title as the World Champion Junior Bull Riding Champion.
If there is an argument about whether champions are born or made, Wacey might tilt the scale to the “made” side of things. But his journey to this point is a map of just how that happens with what family friend and mentor World Champion Bull Rider Cody Custer describes as “overly committed to discipline.”
“In my mind, work ethic outweighs talent every time,” said Cody. “Wacey’s goal is to make a living riding bulls. Even when he was really little, if he didn’t ride well, he’d set out to do something about it.”
Wacey grew up at the bucking chutes with his dad, rough stocker/saddle bronc rider Luke Schalla. He soon had his own gear and was riding sheep, calves, steers and finally junior bulls. Luke and Wacey shared a moment at the NHSRF while touring the memorabilia set out for the 75th Anniversary of Nationals when they located photos of Luke with the New Mexico team in 1996. What did Wacey think about that? “He thought I was old,” laughed Luke.
Luke’s New Mexico rodeo roots and best friends are one of the reasons Wacey ended up rodeoing in New Mexico this past year. “My parents are still in Chama, NM with their Guide and Outfitting business,” explained Luke. “Our daughter Madison is a PRCA Specialty Act trick rider and was contracted to the NM State Fair Rodeo last fall and so we were going to be in the state a lot. And all my friends that I used to rodeo with now have kids that high school rodeo in New Mexico. Wacey is homeschooled so it just seemed like it might be a fun year to put together.”
After spending his junior high through sophomore years rodeoing in Oklahoma, qualifying for Nationals every year in one or more rough stock event, Wacey packed his gear bag as a junior and came to New Mexico. With some extra travel time, he made it to all the rodeos, even flying into one that conflicted with him competing at a Stetson Wright Invitational. Wacey’s mom Nikki recalls, “It was a crazy trip of getting from Utah to Durango, and then rolling into the rodeo in Farmington an hour before it started. But he won both the Saddle Broncs and the Bulls that day.”
Wacey finished the season with state Bull Riding and Bareback titles and third in the Saddle Bronc Riding. He proudly joined Team New Mexico in Gillette competing in all three rough stock events, placing in Barebacks and Bulls and earning the 2023 NHSRF Bull Riding and All-Around titles.
“It was pretty neat,” he said. “Very first day of the NHSRF, I won the first perf in the Bareback Riding (80.5 points) and I didn’t really expect it to hold, but it did. I had to wait three days to know that, but the next day I got on my Saddle Bronc horse and I missed him out, probably to make the short round. That Wednesday I got on my first bull, he wasn’t too good, I was only 62 points. And so I didn’t expect to win the Bull Riding but it all kind of worked out.”
Even with three events, Wacey says his process behind the chutes is pretty simple. “I try to not over think it too much. I stay pretty mentally focused. I don’t let things distract me a whole lot.” Other than that, Wacey says he’s pretty particular about his gear being in order and likes to keep his ropes and gloves pretty new.
Wacey’s recall of his week-long climb to the NHSRF championship was fairly clinical considering the actual mechanics of any successful rough stock ride, let alone the grueling mental and physical toll of three events. Both titles came down to Wacey’s last bull ride in the short go. “I knew I couldn’t have drawn better,” Wacey recalled. “Grady Young won the short round the year before on that bull. Everybody wants to draw him. I knew what he was, and I was pretty confident I’d get him rode.” A jumping hard right spin in the gate and 86 points later, Wacey owned the short-round and the 2023 title.
Cody Custer summed it up. “Fast forward to today and he’s graduated from high school early, he’s committed to a year of college at Clarendon and the day he turns 18 this November, he’ll have his PRCA permit and be on this way. The difference with Wacey is his discipline. I continually at schools use him as an illustration.”
Wacey concurs. “I’m buying my permit as quick as I can and hopefully go to the NFR in 2024. So that’s my plan.’ Recognizing that he will also be college rodeoing he adds, “It’d be pretty awesome to make the College Nationals the same year.”
When Wacey’s not shoving his hand in a bull rope or getting set to nod from the back of a horse, his main entertainment he says is “Cowboy Channel on the road. That’s about it. I try to keep up with some of my good friends like Justin Woodard (top-ranked PRCA Rookie bullrider). He came by the NHSFR twice to watch me ride.”
If he was in a situation to pick just one event, Wacey is quick to say he’d be pretty crazy not to stick with the bull riding, although stacked up against the bareback riding, he says he enjoys them equally. He just started riding saddle bronc horse this past year. “He was small and just not ready for them, so we waited.” Said his dad. “But he’s coming along.”
In the background and working toward a tomorrow he cannot yet see, entrepreneur Wacey has his own bucking bull business. “I mostly have a bunch of 2-year-olds that I buy and sell,” he said. “I have a few cows and I raise a few calves every year. I want to get where I have my own rodeo company and bucking bulls, that would be pretty neat. As of now, if I have a good bull. I end up selling him.”
Wacey told of a recent success with a young bull that was given to him. “He was not outstanding at all. He was a psychopath; he’d flip over in the chutes and he wouldn’t eat. My dad and I took him over, we bucked him for a while, and he got pretty crazy again. He didn’t like anybody, was real hooky. So we just fed him and he grew up and a couple years later he became pretty much our family pet. He got really big and we were hauling him to some junior rodeos. He was never getting rode, so we decided it was probably best for him to go and do better things. I ended up selling him to Chad Berger. First time out, Chad hauled him to a PBR event and he bucked off the number one guy in the world. That was kinda neat.”
Wacey is quick with recognizing his dad Luke and Cody Custer as his heroes, his mentors. He also says Clay Taylor has been extremely important to him since started getting on bulls at the age of 13. His sponsors are Taylors Rafter C Cattle and Vexil.
By all accounts, Wacey likes to fly under the radar in his quiet confidence and not draw attention to himself. He also has been described as “a really good human being.” None of those things will hinder his success, although Cody laughingly said, “Getting this guy to do interviews is like trying to get him to talk to a group of pretty girls but he better get used to both.”