Athletes, Western

On Being a Cowboy, with Ariat Athlete Kade Sonnier

Since its inception in 2005, National Day of the Cowboy has been dedicated to celebrating the contributions of cowboys and cowgirls to the history of the American West. We sat down with the Ariat Athlete Kade Sonnier to hear more about his unconventional journey to the rodeo arena, how can we celebrate cowboys everywhere (and every day!), and why he chose to partner with Ariat.

Why should we celebrate National Day of the Cowboy?

“For there to be a whole day that recognizes the accomplishments of the last 200 years, that's pretty special,” says Kade. “It means that the cowboy way of life is still alive. For a long time, people thought of the cowboy as a dying breed, but I think that even more today than in years past, it's alive and well and thriving.” 

So how should we celebrate and honor cowboys across the country? Kade says the best thing you can do is to go out and thank cowboys for keeping the heritage, tradition, and lifestyle alive. And he doesn't think we should save our thanks for one day out of the year. “I thank cowboys whenever I see them, just like how I do to those who serve in the military. It's not easy to be a rancher these days and that should not go unappreciated.” 

How did you become a professional bareback rider?

Kade competed in youth rodeo until he was seven years old, but ultimately made the decision to stick with baseball, with his sights set on playing professionally. His dedication proved fruitful and he ultimately received a scholarship to play baseball in college, but in 2018, he had two surgeries and neither injury made a full recovery. “It got to the point where I fell out of love with the process it takes to be an elite baseball player,” he explains. Around this same time he reconnected with his dad who had qualified for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in saddle bronc riding for the first time. “I got to go watch him perform and live out a dream we'd shared since I was a little kid riding the couch and using an old bareback rigging.” 

“When I stepped foot into the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time in 2018, it was one of those experiences where I just knew that it was a place I needed to be. Every night the National Anthem played I had tears in my eyes. In that week, my love for rodeo was rekindled.”

“I met with my baseball coach to tell him in person that I was quitting and on March 11, 2020, I got on my first bareback horse. Then COVID hit, so I moved back home and got to work getting ready to ride. From there it happened very quickly.” Kade went on to qualify for the NFR in 2023, which happened to be his Rookie Year, racking up enough earnings to stand 3rd in the world in bareback riding. 

What does being a cowboy mean to you?

Despite his success in the rodeo arena, Kade doesn't think of himself as a cowboy. “I consider myself a rodeo athlete. I have this picture of a cowboy in my mind and it's someone who wakes up every morning and tends to God's creatures and God's land. I just don't do that. I wake up early in the morning to workout, not to feed animals and check fence lines. I have the utmost respect for the guys that do that and I'd hate to take that title away from them.” 

Although being a cowboy is a lifestyle in Kade's mind, he believes it can also be a mentality. “There are times that you have to be a cowboy,” he says. “There's horsemanship in riding bucking horses and you do need to be somewhat of a cowboy to be in rodeo but you see a lot more athletes excelling at the sport than you see the typical cowboy because they have other responsibilities to take care of.” 

“At the end of the day, we all still need the grit, resilience, and determination to get the job done no matter what it takes. When it boils down to it, ranches, farmers, and cowboys don't have the option to take the day off for bad weather. And when it comes to rodeo, it's kind of the same deal. It is nice to get on when it's sunny and 75, but it's cool to see what kind of competitor comes out when it's 30 and raining sideways.”

What makes your partnership with Ariat stand out?

Kade says that after having numerous friends partner with Ariat, it was an easy decision to become an Ariat Athlete. “I got to see first-hand how they treat their athletes,” he explains. “You're not just a number to them, you're part of a team that feels more like a family. And on top of that, Ariat always has new things coming out. There's always a new innovation or technology and that's something that sets Ariat apart; they don't get complacent and they don't just get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.” 

“When you're constantly trying to get a little better, that's how you become one of the greats. That's why I chose to partner with Ariat.”

What is the number one lesson you've learned from cowboys?

“Whatever you decide to do, whatever your purpose is in life, you don't give up on it,” says Kade. “You have to work towards it every day and that purpose may take years to accomplish but God gives us a purpose every day and when we're able to fulfill that purpose, that's what a cowboy does.” 

What are your go-to Ariat styles for bareback riding?

Kade's top pick for boots are from the Ariat Futurity Collection. “They're flashy without being too flashy and I like them for bareback riding because my spurs fit well on the heel and my feet don't slip around,” he explains. “You can really see the way your toes are turned out with the cutter and snip toe shapes when you're spurring a horse. It's both a fashion statement and it's something that makes it easier for the judge to see. It's something that's innovative and helps give me an edge over my fellow competitors.” 

“It's hard to find jeans that fit me well because I'm built like a catcher with a narrow waist and thick legs,” Kade says. “But the Ariat M4 Jeans have a lot of flexibility so you have plenty of room to move and that allows you to get the best spur stroke out of the gate.” 

What does your training routine look like?

After spending much of his life preparing to play baseball professionally, Kade puts a lot of emphasis on keeping his body healthy and fit. “I need to be as strong as I can be, while also being as quick as possible, and as lean as I can be year-round,” he says. Every morning he wakes up, drinks coffee, and reads his devotional before doing push-ups or burpees and heading to the gym where he focuses on explosive movements and on lightweight, high-repetition weight training. 

Any favorite Ariat gear for training? 

“I use the Ariat Ignite Waterproof shoes every day,” Kade says. “I have a hard time finding a shoe I can run sprints in but these are light enough that you feel like you're moving but they have enough padding that you can actually run without hitting the ground flat-footed.” He typically works out in a hoodie, but in the warm summer months, he'll reach for a lightweight, super breathable Ariat Charger T-Shirt

What's one thing people don't know about you?

“I ran track in college, too. Once I quit baseball, the track coach approached me and asked if I would run track and throw the javelin so I got a scholarship to do that,” Kade says. “So once I started college rodeo, I did three sports in college.” 

Kade's Favorites