Cody Cabral is chasing his dream of being an elite pro steer wrestler, working as fast as he can at a job where every second counts.
The 2007 Waiakea graduate set an arena record at the Eugene Oregon Pro Rodeo 4th of July Celebration, taking down a steer in 3.7 seconds, and shattering a mark that stood for nearly two decades.
To those with a sharp memory about Big Island Interscholastic Federation basketball history, Cabral was the big man, playing center, for the Warriors back in the day.
Instead of following in mom Nancy Cabral’s footsteps (she’s owner of Day-Lum properties), he’s traveling around the country competing in rodeo events.
“He’s done a lot of impressive things (in Hawaii Horse Owners Association in Hilo, and Hawaii High Rodeo) when he was younger,” she said. “But it’s easier in Hilo to be a big fish in a small pond. That competition was against everybody, 30 to 40 men who do that for a living too.”
Cabral’s goal is to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo, which is held in December at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
It’s sometimes referred to as the World Series of Rodeo, and the Super Bowl of Rodeo, and brings in more than 170,000 fans during the 10-day event.
Of course, there’s a catch. Not every Cowboy can just buckle up and compete. Only the top 15 in their event on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association money list are eligible.
Cabral is in the neighborhood of 40th on the money list, even with the $1,800 first-prize money at the record-setting Oregon event. The dough was nice, but the memory was priceless for Cabral, whose horse is named Little Time. His other riding buddy is Big Time.
“It was pretty cool. The guy before me set it at 3.8 seconds then I reset it,” he said. “I didn’t know what the record was or that it stood for 19 years. It was cool to watch him beat it, then beat it myself.”
Basketball might not seem like good training for rodeo, but Cabral believes his time in hoops helped polish his athleticism. He was the All-Around Cowboy for the state in 2007 during his senior year.
“A little bit of everything from basketball helped,” he said. “Definitely, a lot of footwork and a lot of it is being strong, and being in shape.”
Cabral has never reached the Rodeo World Series, but he’s competed at the High School Nationals three times, and at the college nationals twice, finishing in 16th place for Walla Walla (Wash.) College.
A long time ago before iPads, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had a 1978 hit duet called, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
The song was basically about the tough and busy life of cowboy culture. Nancy and her husband Al Cabral, president of Hawaii Horse Owners, know all about that. They’ve been involved in rodeo, like the Panaewa Stampede, for decades.
Nancy Cabral pointed out that her two sons, Cody and JC, earned rodeo scholarships, freeing mom from paying a dime for their education.
However, horses aren’t cheap, especially the cost of maintaining one. Like babies, they need constant care, and products such as shoes and medicine gobble up a bank account.
“They cost $5,000 or $6,000 a year. They eat twice a day,” Cabral said. “You have to put shoes on them, take them to the doctor, buy them meds. It’s like having a baby. You have to do everything for them.
“There are other expenses like traveling. It runs about $20,000 a year and a big part is diesel. I travel with four guys and we split the diesel bill. But it’s definitely a rough road at some point.”
On the road
Cabral, 25, has a house in Oregon that he rents out. For the most part, he lives on the road in an RV with a horse trailer.
In something of a team concept, he travels with his competitors but also learns from them. One of his partners is Casey Jones, who made the national finals seven times.
“He was doing it for 20 years before he won a big rodeo,” Cabral said. “I’ve had a few other rodeo wins. The biggest thing and a lot of guys agree on this is the key is who you travel with. You learn stuff and rodeo is very mental.
“Every day you spend money, and don’t know when you’ll get paid. It’s a lot on your head. You don’t have a steady income. Your teammates help carry you and keep you motivated.”
The local boy still carries Hawaii in his heart. His tunes on the road include Hawaiian music, like Ekolu. Even his pals dig his musical flavor.
In a nutshell, Cabral’s life is Willie Nelson’s 1980 hit song, “On the Road Again.”
“It’s all different and fun. You see so much of the country. Last week I was at a rodeo in Montana in the mountains. It was amazing scenery,” Cabral said. “I don’t get a chance to watch TV, but we listen to sports radio. My life revolves around rodeo. If I’m not competing, I’m working at it or practicing.
“I’m always doing the same thing. I don’t mind doing it every day. It doesn’t bother me because it’s something I love.”