Sisters Aspyn Jo and Saige Sagers, of Rush Valley, were born 15 months apart and raised to rodeo. So, rodeoing together as teens is bound to be a rollercoaster ride.
But that ride was colossal at the 2017 National Little Britches Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on July 4-9, as it was Aspyn’s turn on top. So far on top, in fact, that Aspyn and her South Dakota partner, whom she met only six hours before their first event, were named the world champion ribbon ropers.
Ribbon roping is a two-person, timed team competition where a 300-pound calf is let loose and the roper lassos the cow while the other member starts running from a designated spot. The runner aims to grab the ribbon off the calf’s tail and run back to the starting line.
One inherent hazard of the competition is that the runner can get “clothes-lined” (or run into the rope) as the calf switches directions while the runner goes for the ribbon.
At the NLBR finals, Aspyn was competing in senior dally ribbon roping and senior girls goat tying. She had not won at a rodeo in her life. Though she had qualified for the nationals in ribbon roping with several different partners, she did not have a partner for nationals. She had to put her faith in a teammate she had not yet met, in the animal they drew and in her own speed and instincts.
Saige and Aspyn’s father, Dusty Sagers, is a lifetime Rush Valley resident and a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association and Senior Pro Rodeo member who rides saddle bronc, competes in calf roping and team roping, coaches the two daughters and collects and breaks quarter horses across the nation in his spare time. He knows the rodeo inside and out in the West, and throughout the U.S.
“This kid up in South Dakota was looking for a partner, too, and so they got together,” Dusty Sagers said.
Chance Grill of Ardmore, South Dakota, was also shopping for a good ribbon roping partner. After their parents had talked by phone for two weeks, Aspyn and Chance met on the morning of their first run. They got their first taste of working together not in practice, but in the first round.
“They clicked,” Dusty Sagers said. “They were not friends at that point. So, they basically bonded their friendship in the arena. The first calf he roped and she was in her spot and I mean it was over. They won second in that first ‘go-round.’ It was her first buckle that she’d ever won.
“He was probably one of the most correct ribbon ropers I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s just spot on in everything he does that way,” he added.
Aspyn added, “He was such a good roper and roped it right out of the box. So, my job was pretty easy.”
By the second round, they got a chance to talk. Their partnership again meshed as they turned in a second solid run, which put them in 10th position.
“Second go didn’t go as planned. I had it, but then I missed the ribbon, so I had to chase it back,” she said. “I was so close, I don’t know what happened. I just missed it. I kept pushing forward and grabbed it and headed back to the box.”
Despite Aspyn’s disappointment in the second go-round, the duo qualified to move on to the finals, the short go-round. In the short go, the field was narrowed to the top 20 teams from the original 100.
“They ended up third in the short go, with everything combined it put them No. 1 in the average,” Dusty Sagers said. “With their points that they had leading into the final, that excelled them to a world championship.”
For both Chance and Aspyn, the road to the nationals was a bit rocky. Chance had various partners as he worked to gather his points roping in rodeos around in his home state and nearby ones. Aspyn also didn’t have a consistent partner. In addition, both she and Chance had thought they had qualified for nationals in their events and then were surprised they were short points toward the end.
Both had to enter last-chance rodeos. Aspyn’s was in Eagle Mountain, which she entered with Wyatt Barrett, to lock in her last qualification. Chance had to travel to Burlington, Colorado, to get his last qualification.
“Neither one of them had a partner. It was kind of funny,” Dusty Sagers said.
When asked if the two will continue to compete, Aspyn’s father said they will most likely fly to South Dakota to compete in Rapid City, Edgemont and Kadoka, South Dakota.
“I think we’ll probably fly to Rapid City and we’ll rent a car and we’ll borrow horses for Saige to compete on back there and Aspyn will have a chance to rope with Chance … I think they want to be repeat champs. So, that’s kind of the goal this year.”
For Aspyn, the goat tying was an almost-triumph. In the first go-round she took second place, but she was disqualified because of the hat rule. The rule is if your hat blows off, that go-round is nullified. But, it was one of her fastest runs ever. In her second go-round she didn’t do well at all, she said, so she didn’t make it to the goat-tying short go.
“I think that was my fastest time I have ever had, but the minute I crossed the line and my hat came off I just knew that it was bad. It taught me a lesson — to put my hat down,” she said as she demonstated by pushing her hat further down on her head.
Saige’s performance at nationals was a bit disappointing for her this year. She has been riding ever since she was six months old, when her dad carried her in a snuggly on horses as he broke them, he said.
She competes in barrel racing with their white horse, Blue Boy, and breakaway roping and goat tying with the grey one, named Gator. She also does the running portion of the ribbon roping. Her other event is goat tying, in which she didn’t qualify for nationals this year.
“I worked hard to get here and I pull a check wherever I go, but at the finals things just didn’t fall into place with my horse and he didn’t work good. I didn’t have any luck in the ribbon roping.
“The grey horse that I was tying goats off of this year, he’s kind of the old plug that I just use when I want him …. Like one day my barrel horse is just ornery and ignorant and not wanting to cooperate in the goat tying, so I’ll use the other horse,” she said.
Saige didn’t originally want Gator. Dusty talked her into getting the horse from Alabama. After buying and getting the horse to Rush Valley, Gator’s papers arrived. It turned out Gator was sired by the brother of one of her father’s old horses.
“I didn’t enter the breakaway because he was having a bad day,” she said.
Regarding Saige, Dusty Sagers said, “She works harder than anybody I have ever seen in the sport of rodeo. Saige is really coming into her own in her events. She’s currently leading a youth association in Tooele in the barrel race.”
When it comes to his two girls, Dusty Sagers said, “Ninety percent of the time these two get along like best friends.”
From the sounds of the cheering on the video posted on Aspyn’s Facebook page of one of her runs with Chance in the ribbon roping, Saige is Aspyn’s best cheerleader. The camaraderie that the three Sagerses all explain happens at rodeo competitions, where the participants encourage each other to greater heights, it turns out isn’t just teammate to teammate, it is also sister to sister and father to daughter.
“You always want your kids to be better than you were and I’ve got that in both of these,” Dusty Sagers said of his daughters. And regarding Chance, he said, “He’s going to be a big name one day. That kid’s going places.”