LAS VEGAS – The score wasn’t his biggest and the prize wasn’t his grandest, but Sunday night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was just what Richmond Champion needed.
“That was exactly what I needed to do, sit down and just take care of business,” said Champion, 23, of The Woodlands, Texas. “That’s all it comes down to here. I just didn’t expect it to take this long for me to feel that. I feel like my NFR just started.”
He rode Korkow Rodeo’s Feather Fluffer for 83.5 points to finish in a tie for sixth place in the fourth round, pocketing $2,115. Most importantly, he found himself again and realized he needed to return the basics.
“I finally felt something other than chasing my rigging around the Thomas & Mack the last three nights,” he said, explaining he hadn’t been comfortable during the opening three go-rounds. “I think what helped most was not thinking about things and not worrying about anything.
“You can’t get too high or too low, and it’s really sinking in. I think I’m finding my groove.”
It’s a familiar feeling. Champion had similar emotions during his inaugural run at the NFR in 2014. He failed to place in the first three rounds, then finished sixth in the fourth go-round. He followed by placing in five more rounds, including two wins. He finished that week and a half by compiling more than $108,000 in Las Vegas.
He wouldn’t mind following the same script, especially with more money up for grabs in 2016.
“I would love it if we could repeat that and just stay on track with the last time,” he said. Monday “will be one of the rankest rounds of bareback riding that I think the NFR has witnessed with the caliber of guys and the caliber of horses that will be out. It doesn’t matter what horse anyone gets on, it’s going to be awesome.”
Champion has pushed his season earnings to $81,284, but he knows there are a lot of dollars available in the City of Lights. It’s just about controlling emotions and understanding the tasks at hand each night.
“With this caliber of bareback riders, it’s great,” he said. “Everybody in that locker room is talented and has the same game plan. It’s the funnest locker room I’ve ever been in. Everybody’s spirits are high. It doesn’t get better than this, so we just need to slow down and enjoy, because we’ve already done the hard part.
“Nothing really changes here. It’s all the same horses, but it’s bigger and brighter here. Just soak it up, and when it comes to riding, just do your job. It’s taken me this long to find out what I needed.”
Now he’s ready to duplicate his performance of two years ago and walk away from Las Vegas with a carload of cash.