INGLIS, Manitoba – Even grown men believe in fairytales.
Orin Larsen has looked back at his 2016 rodeo season, and he knows they’re true. The Inglis cowboy won some of the biggest championships in the sport over the last 12 months and returns to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as the No. 2 man in the bareback riding world standings with $138,296 in regular-season earnings.
“It has literally been a fairytale year,” said Larsen, who spends much of his time in the Gering, Neb., home he shares with his fiancé, Alexa Minch. “I’ve been really fortunate and blessed to have things go my way since Day 1 of the season. To say I’m blessed is an understatement. It’s been an amazing year for me.”
From San Antonio, Texas, to Tucson, Ariz., to Cheyenne, Wyo., and all points in between, Larsen earned 12 event championships. Even when he wasn’t taking the top spot, he seemed to be placing at just about every rodeo in which he competed. Only one bareback rider, Iowan Tim O’Connell, had a better season and leads Larsen by about $40,000.
But they’re about to embark on a journey to the largest payout in the game. The NFR features a purse of $8.8 million. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each night for 10 rounds during the finale, set for Dec. 1-10 in Las Vegas. That means Larsen can make up a lot of ground in a hurry if things go his way.
“That’s a lot of money for me,” said Larsen, who competed in his first NFR last year and finished the season with more than $114,000; that just shows how much has changed in a year. “I’ve always wanted to be successful in rodeo. That’s my main goal. When you actually look at those numbers, it’s kind of amazing.”
Several things have contributed to his success, but most of that had to do with his mental approach to the sport.
“I think it’s more about just having fun,” said Larsen, the middle son of three boys born to Kevin and Wanda Larsen. “I know I struggled tremendously last year at the NFR. I wanted to win the world title all in one night instead of focusing on the task at hand. I was really focused at the Canadian Finals Rodeo; I walked in there like I had nothing to lose.”
He earned $42,662 at the CFR in Edmonton, Alberta, a couple weeks ago to more than triple his season earnings in the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. Now he and several other CFR qualifiers are making their plans for the Nevada desert. Larsen is one of eight Canadians who have qualified for the NFR, the most in several years.
“I’ve always told everybody that Canada is full of great talent,” he said. “Like me, it might take a little while for it to surface. To see this many makes me even more proud to be a Canadian.”
Even the proudest Canadians make their way south of the border to prepare themselves for the rigors of ProRodeo. Larsen spent three years at the College of Southern Idaho before following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tyrel, and transferring to Oklahoma Panhandle State University; younger brother Kane rides bulls at the college in Goodwell, Okla.
Orin Larsen took to his education well. He won the 2013 and ’14 college championships, the first while attending school in Idaho, and the second while at Panhandle State. Now he’s transitioned nicely into ProRodeo.
Last December, he earned more than $32,000 while in Las Vegas. While that’s respectable earnings for 10 days of work, it wasn’t what he had hoped.
“I had to come back and redeem myself,” he said. “My main goal this year was to make the NFR so I can make a true explanation point to my ability. Hopefully I’ll be able to prove that going into Vegas.
“You just have to take it one horse at a time. You have to have a better attitude to take care of business, and luckily it just worked out for me this year.”
As an athlete, part of the business of riding bucking horses is maintaining the best health possible. Bareback riding is the most physically demanding event in rodeo, and Larsen knows he must maintain his strength and conditioning to be prepared for 10 straight days of world-class competition.
He has a strong game plan that includes running two and a half miles every morning and about an hour of a stringent workout routine at home.
“I’ve been working out hard since the end of the season, and I’ve got my own routine and my own diet,” Larsen said. “I wake up every morning at 5:30 and have a good breakfast; my fiancé gives me hell about not eating well enough, so she makes sure I do.
“I also have a positive-thinking book that I read every morning. I think that’s helped me a lot, too.”
He’s surrounded by positivity, from his family to his fiancé. When he separated a rib the final week of the rodeo season, he took advantage of his time out of the arena by proposing to Minch on Sept. 23.
“We went up in the mountains in Colorado, and we were taking pictures up there,” he said. “I took a couple selfies with the ring when she wasn’t looking. I didn’t even really ask her. I just froze still on one knee. I guess she knew what I was asking.”
They are planning their wedding for next October.
“She helps keep me positive when I’m in a slump or if I’m not doing well,” Larsen said. “She’s always encouraging me. She helps me keep my self-confidence and keeps my head on a swivel. She takes care of everything when I’m gone. She’s a huge help and a huge part of my life.”
And even though they live many hours away in a different country, Larsen leans on his family. They helped instill a strong work ethic and helped develop a true talent.
“Family, for me, is everything,” he said. “I can’t thank my parents enough for the support and sacrifices they’ve done for me, Tyrel and Kane throughout our careers, whether it was driving all night to a rodeo or giving us a little bit of money while we were in college because we were starving. My parents and my grandparents are our No. 1 fans.
“I’m in a debt of gratitude to them.”
It could be the only debt he possesses after such a strong season. Now he carries all that support with him to the biggest rodeo in the world and a chance to cash in even more.
“All I’m really focused on is riding my best each night,” Larsen said. “I can only do my job. I have to ride the best of my ability, say a prayer and go on to the next one.”
It’s a winning mentality that has worked well so far.