Kolton Schmidt is nothing if not focused. And seems to have been so most of his life.

Kolton Schmidt Team Roper Rodeo Cowboy Collectibles

Soon to compete in the Canadian Finals Rodeo (starting in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada November 9th and running through the 13th), Schmidt is all of 22 yet exhibits a preternatural concentration on being the best at what he does. And what he does is rope—more specifically, he’s the header in the rodeo event known as team roping, wherein two mounted riders chase down a steer in about as much time as it takes you to read this paragraph. (The header ropes the steer and turns him, while the heeler ropes the steer’s hind feet.) Schmidt has been roping this season with new partner Shay Carroll.

“I want to win at the CFR, and I want to win the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December—I want to win a world championship,” says Schmidt, who hails from Barrhead, Alberta—but whose parents bought a place down in sunny Maricopa, Arizona back in 2004, which is where Schmidt has spent all his winters since, giving him a bit of a training advantage over his far-north peers. (Schmidt also recently bought himself a place of his own not far from his parents’ spread.) “I’ve always been about roping.”

A third-generation roper, Schmidt learned from his father Ronald and his grandfather Leonard, themselves distinguished ropers. In fact, in 2000 his father won as a heeler at the Canadian championships; and to keep the Schmidts in roping form, Leonard built the family an arena inside which they could practice year-round. Coming up, Schmidt even roped competitively with his dad for a while. “Best partner I ever had,” recalls Schmidt, whose little sister and little brother also rope and compete (his sister Taylor now rides the same horse on which he won many a competition).

“Roping was never just a hobby in our family,” says Schmidt, who won the 2013 Canadian Team Roping Championship at 17. “We tend to not do anything just to do it.”

Schmidt also played hockey for a while (hey, he’s Canadian, how could he not have), but admits, probably with a tad too much self-deprecation, that he wasn’t that good and, even more self-deprecatingly, adds that rodeo’s pretty much everything for him because he was never “crazily overathletic.” (His dad played on a junior team, which is pretty much just two steps below the NHL; and his mom, Elaine, played on a traveling team that went to Europe.)

And lest you think this is the rodeo version of Todd Marinovich and his slave-driving father, not to worry. (Marinovich, you may recall, was the late-80s quarterback of the future, dubbed the “Robo QB” and called by Sports Illustrated “America’s first test-tube athlete,” who started as a freshman at USC only to flame out—due to addiction issues and further back than that, issues with his, well, with his slave-driving father—as a quarterback in the NFL.) Schmidt may be driven, but he exhibits none of the issues that haunted Marinovich. And, come on, he’s Canadian.

Even so, that Canadian championship, “opened my eyes to rodeo being real,” admits Schmidt. And it was partly why he even went to college, spending his freshman year at Western Oklahoma State College in Altus, Oklahoma before transferring to Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant for his next two years, where in 2015 his team there won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s team roping title. “I liked it a lot, and some of my best friends I met there,” says Schmidt, who majored in communications before leaving one year before graduation (he plans on finishing up his degree in the near future).

“We had a coach and practice facilities and I always cared about school but my main goal was winning the college national championship,” says Schmidt, who roped for Christi Braudrick. “She was awesome. She wasn’t there to coach so much as to look after you. She was more like a mentor. It was all up to you if you wanted to get better.”

Which is all Schmidt wants: to get better and be the champion.

Not that he wasn’t one of the best early on. Not long after his dad started T.R.A.S.H. for Kids—Team Roping At The Schmidt House, a roping school for kids taught by local and visiting pro and amateur rodeo ropers—Schmidt, at 14, “could’ve taught the damn school himself,” says Roland McFadden, one of T.R.A.S.H.’s guest ropers. McFadden, who won last year’s CFR Team Roping title alongside three-time champion heeler Tyrel Flewelling, has known Schmidt his whole life.

“Kolton’ll beat you with his arm, and with his horses, too—he’ll beat you any way,” says McFadden, who’s only nine years Schmidt’s senior. “Ronald pushed Kolton to be the best, and winning the CFR and the NFR—that’s been Kolton’s goal his whole life.

“He’s not scared and he never has been scared,” adds McFadden. “When I first made it to the Canadian finals, I was just happy to be there. When Kolton made it at 17, his goal was to win—he wasn’t happy just being there. He’s got the ability and he’s got the work ethic. And I’m excited to see what he can do down there in Vegas, too. It’s a hard building. But I like their chances.”

Daryn Knapp is another admirer of Schmidt’s. “I’ve been watching him since he was a little guy,” says Knapp, the 2002 Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) champion header who now runs Diamond K Marketing with his partner Carolynn. “He’s outstanding, and he’s progressed far beyond his years.”

Knapp has roped with him a couple times, and says he could see Schmidt had that “it” factor back in 2007. “He’s really driven,” says Knapp. You don’t see that up here. It separates him from most people. Kolton just seems to be a step above everybody up here. He’s one of a kind, definitely.”

As driven as he is, Schmidt remains humble and respectful. “I don’t talk about roping much with my dad or my grandpa,” says Schmidt. “We talk more about the person you are, and doing things right.”

He also tries to learn as much as he can from others—from people like McFadden and Knapp, and from the ropers right ahead of him and behind him. (He roped with Flewelling when he was 17, and bought one of his horses from three-time CPRA champion Murray Linthicum.) “I’m right between Dustin Bird and Luke Brown,” says Schmidt. “Two of the best headers that ever roped.

“Everybody knows something you don’t,” he adds. “I just try to learn as much as I can from others.”

And to ride and rope as often as possible. “I try to go to every jackpot I can—I try to compete a lot,” says Schmidt, explaining how he’ll be preparing for the CFR and the NFR. “And I like to make myself as nervous as possible. Because it’s the mental stuff—that’s where it’s at. What I try to do is stay strong mentally. And I feel like I have an open mind set. More open than other people, maybe.”

“He’s been in these situations before—it doesn’t seem that the pressure bothers him that much,” observes Knapp. “And even though that can down there in Vegas is a touch lower, he’s got a good shot. And his horse has been in that situation, too. You have to have a horse that’s strong on that wall.”

Ah, yes, the horse. Known as much for their horses as their rodeo ambitiousness, the Schmidts, not just Kolton, have a reputation as horse gurus. Or whisperers (cheesy as that may be). Whisperers, gurus, whatever, the Schmidts raise and train quality equines. “Leonard, Ronald, all those cousins—they do raise some of the best horses around,” says McFadden. “That’s something Kolton got from his dad. He taught him how to winter his horses. And when he was 17, he had a bay mare that was one of the best horses I’ve ever seen.”

And as McFadden also points out, “In this sport, you’re only as good as your horse.” Although, as McFadden also adds without a beat—“Your horse is only as good as the guy riding him. Kolton’s horse is working now better than ever, but Kolton’s riding better than ever, too.”

Although Schmidt tried steer riding, it never clicked for him the way roping has. “I like the finesse of the roping,” he explains. “I like how graceful and fast it is. And I like that there’s a lot of reaction time involved and how you need to have quick thinking.”

He also loves the Western lifestyle. “I think Trevor Brazile put it best: When they lay more concrete down, that just makes what I do that much better,” he says almost wistfully. “I’m fourth right now. And this is my first time. So I’m a little nervous but I’m also really excited. After all,” he adds, keeping things entirely in perspective, “it’s just roping. You still gotta rope steers.”