CASPER, Wyo. -- Kaleb Asay loves climbing aboard a bronc.
He lives to hop on a colt.
Even during the biggest week of the college rodeo season, the Vernon College saddle bronc rider and Powell native won't let himself get away from the ranch work that led to rodeo's existence.
While waiting to see if he'll be back for Saturday's short go-round at the College National Finals Rodeo, Asay plans to spend the rest of his week getting some work done in local fields.
"There's a couple of ranches around here that I've worked for and I might as well go and help out," Asay said. "That's definitely what I love. I love getting on a colt, getting up early in the morning, getting out to see some wide-open country."
That cowboy way of life certainly isn't lost on Asay's competitors at the CNFR.
Most of them have spent time breaking horses, rounding up the herd or building a fence.
But few probably actually enjoy it as much as Asay.
"Kaleb, he's a cowboy, man," said CNFR bullfighter Dusty Tuckness, a close friend of Asay's family. "He loves the ranch work and the Western way of life. He's always trying to be involved in that somehow and if he can be on a horse all day long, that's what he's going to do."
But Asay, whose brother Kanin is a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, is far too talented at riding them for eight seconds to spend all day, every day in the field.
He proved that in 2008, winning the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Saddle Bronc Rookie of the Year.
Asay spent a semester at Casper College before focusing on his professional season and it paid off as he earned more money than any other rookie.
But the quick transition from high school rodeo to the professional ranks took its toll.
"A lot of it was just getting seasoned," Asay said. "You've got to get used to driving 20 hours and then getting on a horse. You've just got to learn the ropes and get to where you're used to getting on all kinds of different horses."
Asay seemed to find a groove, but an injury kept him from sustaining it in 2009.
At first, he refused to discuss the fact that he broke his back for the second time in as many years, thinking he would only be making excuses.
But, after not getting the injury fixed the first time, he decided the second time around that he needed to take care of it.
Part of the healing process was heading back to the fields near Powell.
"I had to get everything back on track," Asay said. "I'm pretty sure everyone has to do it sometime in their career so hopefully I got mine out of the way.
"(The passion) never left. I just needed to take a break and get back out and do some cowboyin'. A guy gets to clear his mind when he's out there by himself."
Whatever he got on or out of his mind seems to have worked.
Moving to Texas allowed him to go to school and ride at some of the biggest Winter rodeos and he's back in the top 50 in the standings heading into the busiest portion of the year.
At the CNFR, Asay is poised to make a run at a national championship.
He was first in the average Wednesday after the first three rounds, scoring a 78.5 on a ride Tuesday night.
And he'll have the next few days to spend on the range.