For many of colorado’s professional athletes, success is, in part, determined by the right sole or a well-oiled sprocket. For pro roper Josh Peek, glory depends on a 1,000-pound horse. The Pueblo native rode his first steed at six years old and started roping wooden calf dummies on his family’s ranch a year later; he turned pro in 2002. Since then, Peek has collected dozens of titles—including a second-place finish in tie-down roping at April’s Rodeo All-Star Weekend in Denver—and a million-plus in winnings. With state finals about to start up, we go inside the mind of the 34-year-old champion.

Taking Care Of Business

Like most rodeo riders, Peek (pictured)is both an athlete and his own manager. Translation: When he’s not astride a horse, he’s busy registering for events, plotting logistics such as transportation, and tracking his entry fees and winnings.

At The Core

A cowboy may not need bulging biceps for his sport, but Peek attributes at least some of his success grappling with 600-pound steers to his core. “You don’t have to be the strongest guy, but you have to be fit,” he says. His daily nine-hour practices typically double as workouts, but when he’s on the road, Peek makes time for an outdoor run or weightlifting.

Strong Arm

Maintaining control of a half-ton horse sometimes requires old-fashioned brute force, but Peek generally prefers a more relaxed technique. Kicking the horse too hard risks causing the animal to run in spurts. That stop-and-start rhythm makes the animal lose energy faster and get winded.

Stand Tall

While it might seem more secure to set the arches of your feet on the stirrups, that actually shifts a rider’s center of gravity to his heels, which can cause his body to lean back. If the horse pivots too sharply, the rider may fall. Instead, Peek places the balls of his feet on the stirrups for better balance.

Eyes On The Prize

During tie-down roping—one of Peek’s best events, in which each rider must lasso a calf before dismounting to wrestle it down—Peek aims to “square up” with the calf on his right and focuses his gaze down the right side of his horse, just above the calf’s shoulders. “Anytime the calf drifts right or left, its shoulders will move in that direction ahead of time,” he says.

Time Limit

Rodeo cowboys don’t have four quarters to win a game; they get a single ride. “It’s one run, and it’s win or lose,” Peek says. When the gates bang open during competition, Peek says his nerves and doubts are replaced by an instant adrenaline rush.

Animal ESP

Any details riders can glean about the animals they’re facing—whether they’re “prepared” or “fresh” (have or haven’t been roped before)—can be an advantage. Peek also brings three or four horses with him to competitions; his knowledge of their strengths and quirks helps him pick the best one for each event (he competes in tie-down roping and steer wrestling). Exclusive: See some of the country’s best riders at an upcoming rodeo.

Jefferson County Fair and Rodeo

August 9
Jefferson County Fairgrounds, Golden
One of the closest rodeos to Denver, this annual event (part of the three-day fair) features only Colorado riders and live music.

Deer Trail Rodeo

August 15 to 16
Jockey Club Arena, Deer Trail
Now in its 145th year, Deer Trail’s competition touts itself as the longest-running rodeo in the United States.

Colorado State Fair & Rodeo

August 22 to September 1
Colorado State Fairgrounds, Pueblo
This 54-year-old crowd pleaser (the fair itself has taken place for more than a century)—one of the last opportunities to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo—sees close to 500 world and local champions competing in everything from steer wrestling to bullfighting.

Colorado Pro Rodeo Association State Finals

September 12 to 14
Mesa County Fairgrounds, Grand Junction
The CPRA—which sanctions many of the state’s biggest rodeos—invites the top 12 prizewinners (most from Colorado) of the past year to compete in nine events.