THE WOODLANDS, Texas – That big blast of air that passed through the Nevada desert Sunday night was Richmond Champion’s exhale.
“Yes, it’s a sigh of relief,” said Champion, who rode Sankey Rodeo’s Thunder Monkey for 81.5 points to finish in a share of sixth place during the fourth go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “I was starting to wonder what was going on.”
It was the first time in his inaugural qualification to ProRodeo’s grand championship that The Woodlands, Texas, cowboy finished in the money. He pocketed $1,532; yes, it’s a long ways from the $19,000 first-place check, but it provides the young man much needed momentum.
“That is huge,” said Champion, who is eighth in the world standings with $91,467 in season earnings. “I’ve sat on the couch and watched this rodeo go down a bunch of times, and it seems like there are ups and downs for everybody.
“I think keeping a good attitude and taking momentum when you can have it, even when it’s the little victories, can really shine through at the end of the week when you’re sore and the week has kind of put the beating to you. I’m really just staying positive. I feel good; I’m healthy and confident.”
That showed Sunday night.
“I’d never been on that horse, but I was stoked to have him,” he said. “I’ve seen them win a round on him here one year, and Caleb won Pendleton on him earlier this year. I was pretty happy to have him.
“It was fun, and I needed it.”
Champion has had a very successful season, just his third in ProRodeo. He won eight Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association titles, including ones at prestigious events in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Dodge City, Kan. He also won $1.1 million in March at RFD-TV’s The American, a non-PRCA event.
Still, this is the biggest stage of his career. The NFR’s history dates back to 1959, and this December marks its 30th anniversary in Las Vegas.
“I thought there would be some pressure when I got here, but there really hasn’t been as much as I thought,” Champion said. “It turned out to be that I’ve never been so excited to ride bucking horses. I’ve never sat on one itching to nod my head, waiting for them to tell me to go.
“It’s been an experience I will never forget. It was what I’ve looked forward to when I got off the first one. It didn’t matter if I was 79 or 59; it was a dream come true. It’s definitely worth everything I’ve put into this. I definitely want to come back now that I’ve been here.”
Monday’s fifth round will feature the top 15 bucking horses in the world, what, in rodeo, is referred to as the TV pen.
“There will be so many good horses out tomorrow, you can’t lose,” he said. “It’s going to be fun. If anything, these past few rides have built up my momentum moving forward to this round, and I feel like I shine on these types of horses, just like everybody else. They’re my bread and butter.”
Now he needs some round-winning jam to go with it.