LAS VEGAS – Tanner Aus just didn’t feel very well when he arrived in Las Vegas.
It’s nothing a few antibiotics and a big paycheck can’t cure. On Monday night, Aus rode J Bar J Rodeo’s Hell On Hooves for 86.5 points to finish second in the fifth go-round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, earning $20,731 in the process.
“I had the option of a reride,” he said, noting that the horse slipped on its front feet during the ride, but still finished with a strong enough performance to match Aus’ moves well. “With an 86.5, I haven’t been that score on many horses, so I took the score right away and was on Cloud 9.
“I was thinking that was going to be about fourth place in the round.”
It wasn’t. In fact, the Granite Falls, Minn., cowboy was the fourth bareback rider to compete. He held the top score through 11 rides, then watched as four-time reigning world champion Kaycee Feild earned the round win with a 91.
“I sure watched some good rides and thought, for sure, I was going to get bumped,” said Aus of Granite Falls, Minn. “When there was one guy left and I was sitting up there at the top, I thought, ‘man, that’s pretty awesome.’ ”
It was awesome; it also was needed.
“Everyone says it’s 10 nights long and you’ve got more chances to do it, but every night you go consecutively without making money makes it harder on your psyche,” he said. “I got a good night’s sleep last night. I felt better and more focused than I have all week, so I’m thankful for how it went.”
He should be. Though he’s made five straight qualified rides, he sits seventh in the aggregate standings with 376.5 points – 45 points behind Feild, who leads the average race.
“It seems like when I’m riding my best, I don’t have to think about anything,” said Aus, whose father, John, was a bareback rider. “I can just take care of my business, tuck my chin and look down the pipe. When you’re in the zone, everything goes good. I hadn’t had this feeling at all this week until tonight.”
This is the 25-year-old cowboy’s first qualification to the NFR, so in addition to overcoming his illness, he’s had to get acclimated to the most prestigious rodeo of his career.
“I think I’m over the jitters,” Aus said. “I’ve been riding over here with (fellow bareback riders) Austin Foss and Tim O’Connell. Their personalities are a lot different, but they’re positive. They say if you don’t do well, just shake it off go on to the next one.
“I think that’s really what it takes here. Everyone in the locker room is like that, too. It’s a great group of guys. It’s an honor to be there.”
He’s earned the right to be among the best in the game. He proved it Monday night.