INGLIS, Manitoba – There was a pit in Orin Larsen’s stomach, an agitation he couldn’t release.
“I drove into my yard and thought, ‘I’ll never let that happen again,’ ” said Larsen, a bareback rider from Inglis.
That was in September 2014, when he finished 19th in the world standings and missing out on a qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which features only the top 15 contestants in each event in the year-end championship.
“I was driving home to Goodwell (Okla.), and it really got to me,” said Larsen, who also was attending Oklahoma Panhandle State University at the time. “This year I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a repeat of last year.”
It’s not. Larsen finished the 2015 regular season ranked 10th in the world standings, earning one of those coveted spots in the finale’s field. In fact, he’ll be joined at ProRodeo’s grand finale by his older brother, Tyrel, who finished the regular season 15th in the world standings.
“It’s a great honor to be part of the top 15 in the world,” he said. “I’m very blessed to be part of it. It’s way more special to be there with your older brother. When you, as brothers, dream of this moment, it’s another form of special no one else will ever know.”
Orin Larsen attributes a great deal of success in a change in the rodeo schedule he made with his traveling partner, Seth Hardwick of Laramie, Wyo., who finished the regular season 12th on the money list. The tandem opted to going to fewer rodeos, while focusing their attention on the ones with bigger purses. That worked for them both.
“I ended up going to 60 rodeos this year, and, in my opinion, that played a huge part in our successes,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of guys that will nod their heads at 100 rodeos. There’s no way I could do it. This year, we dialed it down a little bit and went to the rodeos we wanted to go do. We were healthier, and we were hungrier. It’s a system that works.”
Being healthy is vital in rodeo, especially in bareback riding, where cowboys wedge their hands into a rigging that is strapped to a bucking horse. It is the most physically demanding event in rodeo.
“I think the thing that changed mostly for us this year is that we were rodeoing smarter, but mentally, I approached this year a little differently,” he said. “This year we were just going to have fun doing it, and we’re going to get paid doing it. Traveling with a positive partner like Seth dang sure helped a lot, too.”
On the road, traveling partners become siblings. They support each other and lean on one another when they need. But Larsen has a great deal of support, something that’s been part of his life since his childhood growing up in the valleys of Manitoba on the family’s ranch.
Father Kevin operates the outfit, and mother Wanda runs a barbershop in nearby Roblin, Manitoba. Orin Larsen is one of four children, and the oldest, sister Cassie, is a hairdresser like their mom. The boys – Tyrel (26), Orin (24) and Cane (22) – all took to rodeo. In fact, all the boys found their way to college rodeo and Panhandle State, which is recognized as one of the top collegiate programs in the country.
Orin first went to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, where he earned the College National Finals Rodeo bareback riding title in 2013. He then transferred to Panhandle State and won the crown again in 2014.
“I chose the College of Southern Idaho because Kelly Wardell – who lives 45 minutes north of Twin Falls – has taught me everything I know about bareback riding,” Larsen said. “That was the deciding factor. After I did my two years in Twin Falls, I felt like I had gained a degree, and it felt like was more out there for me.
“I ended up going to OPSU because of their track record and their resume in college and pro rodeo. I’m happy the way I did it.”
He’s known since he was little that rodeo was something he loved. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, and that competitive fire continued to develop.
“When Tyrel started riding calves and steers, he was being successful,” Orin Larsen said. “It was a brotherly thing where I wanted to beat him, and my younger brother wanted to beat both of us. Growing up on a family ranch like that, we grew up around horses and cows. We had the Western lifestyle. It wasn’t something that was foreign to us.
“We knew how to handle horses, and that helps with a rodeo career.”
It turns out, Larsen handles them quite well. This year, he won seven rodeo titles, including some big ones in Greeley, Colo.; Molalla, Ore.; and Salt Lake City. In fact, he pocketed nearly $22,000 at those three rodeos alone, and that was added into the nearly $82,000 he earned in 2015.
What drives Larsen to ride bareback horses, and what pushes him to be one of the best at it?
“I have no idea,” he said. “Even before I knew what bareback riding was, I remember watching the NFR on TV and thought, ‘Those guys are crazy.’ In my bedroom, I always pretended to be a bareback rider.”
He doesn’t have to pretend any more, and he has family and others who make a big difference in how he handles his business and his life.
“Without my family – between Mom, Dad and my grandparents – there is no way I could make the finals or be any way successful in my career or my life,” he said. “You hear guys that don’t have that kind of support, and it makes me feel bad. It’s such a great thing to have.
“They help forge you to be the person you are. They’ve helped me with everything imaginable. Without family, I’m nothing.”
That includes his girlfriend, Alexa Minch.
“My girlfriend and other people will tell me, ‘I’m jealous of you; you get to have a ball doing what you love,’ ” Larsen said. “I’m very blessed and very fortunate to have the career I’ve had. It’s been crazy the last couple of years how much fun I’m having with rodeo.”
That fun continues at the NFR, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. It features the largest purse in the game at $8.8 million, with top dollars being paid out each day for 10 December nights.
He is one of six Canadians who have qualified for the NFR and joins brother Tyrel as the first two cowboys from Manitoba ever to earn a trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale.
“It’s extremely special to go to the NFR with my brother,” Orin Larsen said. “When I get to Vegas, I’m just going to be oblivious to the world. I’m going to roll with the punches and enjoy it. I get to have fun with my brother.”
That sounds like a great time.