GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – With just a month and a half left before the biggest rodeo of the year, Tanner Aus turned his focus on something other than bareback riding.
He married his longtime girlfriend, Lonissa, on Oct. 15. It was a memorable day with lots of friends, family and smiles, and it was the perfect time to turn his attention toward his bride.
Besides, he’d earned the break. Aus had just finished ProRodeo’s regular season with $112,684 in earnings and sits fourth in the world standings. With that, he has earned his second straight qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale set for Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas.
“It’s just another part of the dream by making multiple appearances to the finals,” said Aus, 26, of Granite Falls. “I couldn’t be more thankful for the season I’ve had to get to this point.”
Now he has a chance to make it even better. The NFR will pay out more than $26,000 per night to go-round winners for each of the 10 rounds. Those that finish with the best cumulative score after 10 rides will earn the average championship, valued at more than $67,000.
With that much money on the line, it is a grand incentive for cowboys to not only qualify for Las Vegas but to cash in. Each night is pressure-packed, partially because of the purse and partially because the cowboys are facing the greatest bucking horses night after night.
“Some of my success this year was luck,” said Aus, who competed in college rodeo at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. “When a season goes that good, you have to draw good. I’ve done almost more preparation this year than I ever have.
“A lot of determination comes from success. It’s addicting. You put your heart and soul into something, and it pays off. But then you want more.”
It certainly will be a feat if he were to topple where he finished last year, but Aus is well on his way. He pocketed $83,756 in Vegas a year ago, but he has an opportunity to do even better. He earned that much placing in just three rounds and sixth in the average. Now he heads into the championship as one of the top 5 bareback riders in the world.
“Having success at the finals last year was a huge monkey off my back,” said Aus, who earned $100,000 this year by winning the non-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association called The American. “That’s what everybody dreams about and works for. To be able to carry that NFR gear bag and wear that coat, it was huge for confidence.
“Feb. 28 (the date of The American) was a day that changed my life. I’m recently out of college, and I have a girlfriend that I want to get engaged to. I have student loans to pay off, a ring and a wedding, and I make the four-man in Arlington (Texas). I know it pays $20,000 for second place, and I just hope I can get that.”
Instead, he won The American by a quarter of a point. Though that money didn’t count toward the PRCA world standings, it proved to be a comforting sum to an athlete who has no guaranteed income – in addition to riding bucking horses to make a living, Aus also must cover his own expenses that come in rodeo. Cowboys also must pay an entry fee in order to compete, and that money is part of the purse.
“My plan for life was changed that day,” he said. “It gave me the freedom to rodeo how I wanted all season. I could focus on what made me a better bareback rider. Winning that rodeo might have been something that changed my season.
“I just placed at a lot of the big rodeos this winter, and it wasn’t flashy. But I made money in San Antonio, Tucson (Ariz.) and Denver. It all added up pretty quick in the winter and gave me a good start to the summer. I was thankful for that.”
That kind of consistency is a major part of the success he faced all season. He found his way to the pay window often. Not only does that add up in the bank account, but dollars equal points in ProRodeo. Only the top 15 money-earners in each event at the conclusion of the regular season advance to the NFR, and the contestants with the most money won at the finale’s conclusion will be crowned world champions.
It should be a great race over the final 10 days of the 2016 season. Aus is one of five bareback riders who have earned more than $100,000 this season.
“I think it’s a testament to the growth of the sport and the interest in bareback riding,” he said. “I’m thankful we get to do what we do. To have that many guys make over $100,000 in bareback riding is amazing.”
It’s a quick reflection of the number of times all cashed in this season, including Aus. He found his “zone,” and he let it be a guiding force.
“It’s especially nice when you get to placing consistently,” Aus said. “When it gets rolling and you show up to a rodeo, all you have to do is strap yourself on. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just not your head, and it all goes well because you’re prepared.”
Make no bones about it; the Minnesota cowboy works diligently on his craft.
“Tanner has just set his mind to being good now,” said Ty Breuer of Mandan, N.D., who, with Breuer’s brother, Casey, is one of Aus’ traveling partners. “He always had the ability, but he’s worked so hard at it the last couple of years. It sure shows.
“Tanner has stepped up his game so much. All he craves is bareback horses, and that keeps us all going.”
Ty Breuer is 12th in the standings and returns to the NFR for the second time. Their other traveling partner – Ty’s brother, Casey – finished 20th in the regular-season standings and just missed his chance to join the others in Vegas.
“I wish Casey had made it there, and he’s been so close,” said Aus, who credits a big part of his success to his sponsors, Granite Falls Dairy Queen, Jug Waterers, Windham Weaponry, Phoenix Performance Products and Wrangler. “It’s awesome that Ty and I get to go together this year. Your dreams are in front of you, and you’re reaching for them together. When you can go in there together, it just makes make the NFR sweeter.”
Of course, this is the place Aus had always believed he would be since he first began riding bareback horses at age 9. That’s what happens to the son of a ProRodeo cowboy.
John Aus rode bareback horses for years and earned titles all along the way. Now his father joins mom, Rae Ann, and younger sisters, Dani and Braelee, as a big-time support system. They’ve all been cheering from the sidelines from Day 1.
“There were times in my career when I thought I was done riding bareback horses,” he said, referring to a major groin injury that sidelined him from the game for many months. “Here I am going to another NFR, sitting fourth in the world and feeling great.”
It’s a true testament to his talent and passion for the game. It’s also a statement that bringing it all together can pay off in a big fashion.