GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – Even though he’s just 27 years old, Tanner Aus is a veteran bareback rider who is making a mark in the game he loves.
The proof came through the 2017 regular season, where the Granite Falls man earned $136,657. It’s an incredible amount of money and put Aus No. 2 in the world standings heading into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas.
But he still has some work to do. Despite having the best regular season of his seven-year career, Aus trails good friend and world standings leader Tim O’Connell by more than $65,000.
“Just watching him ride, Tim is on fire,” said Aus, who will ride in Vegas for the third straight year. “That’s fuel for every one of us, and he knows it. He thrives on that. It’s great to have that atmosphere where one guy pushes the next.
“This year has been amazing, and I hope it’s a testament to the direction the sport is going. Rodeos are starting to add more money. They can see the hard work that we put in and the sacrifices we make. It’s a great step for the sport to see that many guys break $100,000 in the regular season.”
Nine bareback riders topped that mark, and 50 of the 120 NFR qualifiers earned more than $100,000 leading into ProRodeo’s grand finale, the sport’s richest rodeo with a purse of $10 million. Go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 per night for 10 rounds.
Aus knows that very well. At last year’s championship, he won three go-rounds and placed in three others. He left Las Vegas with more than $100,000 in 10 days’ work. If things go well, he can make up ground on O’Connell in three nights. He’s achieved his first goal, which is returning to the NFR.
“I had a great winter, and I felt like I rode strong,” said Aus, who credits much of his success to his sponsors: Granite Falls Dairy Queen, Jug Waterers, Windham Weaponry, Phoenix Performance Products, Twin Cities Featherlite and Wrangler. “I also drew well; it was a lot of fun.
“Everything came together. I got a good start to the season, and I was sitting in the top five most of the year. After winning Austin (Texas in March), I jumped to the No. 1 spot for a while; that was pretty fun for me.”
It was fun most of the season, and that helped make winning easier. In addition to his Rodeo Austin title, he also claimed at least a share of the victory at 10 other rodeos. But in order to win more than $130,000, he performed well enough when he wasn’t the titlist to make it count.
“It was a lot of scrapping,” he said. “There were a few long stretches where it was a few small checks. I had a couple big wins, and winning Austin was great. I’d been the runner-up there twice, but this year I got the (trophy) branding iron, and I’ll cherish that forever.
“Staying healthy was key. I spent a lot of time in the gym whenever I could and tried to stay focuses. The support I got from my family and my wife was another essential part to my season.”
Family has always been a valuable tool for Aus. He and his wife, Lonissa, just celebrated their one-year anniversary in October. She has been instrumental in keeping him in shape and has been a bright spot when he needs one.
In fact, the two are adding to their clan. He and Lonissa are expecting a baby due in May. It’s another big piece of what defines Aus, and she will likely make a positive change to an already positive man.
His family has always been an influence. His father, John, is a former bareback rider that has given Aus guidance since he was a youngster. His mother, Rae Ann, and sisters Dani and Braelee have been a backbone to his success.
“My wife is the one who introduced me to fitness, nutrition and flexibility … the stuff that could take me to the next level,” said Aus, who competed in college rodeo at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo. “My mom has always been a rock for me. When I’m riding, my dad’s voice is in the back of my head to be aggressive.
“It’s the little things they do to help me.”
He’ll take all the help he can get, whether it’s from his family or from his traveling partners, brothers Ty and Casey Breuer. The trio has been up and down the rodeo trail together for several years, and they have become like siblings that way.
Ty Breuer returns to Las Vegas for the third time in his career, but Casey Breuer was sidelined in mid-August after suffering three fractured vertebrae when a horse smashed him into the back of the chute just before a ride in Circle, Mont.
Nevertheless, both Breuers remained key factors in Aus’ successful campaign.
“Between Ty and Casey, they are two of the most positive people you could go with,” he said. “When Casey got hurt, it really broke my heart. That was a tough thing and still is tough, but I still keep pretty close contact with him.
“He’s a sparkplug when he’s in the room. I think he handles this situation better than most people would. That’s probably made it easier for Ty and me.”
Aus hasn’t stepped off the gas pedal yet. He capped his phenomenal season the second weekend in November at the RAM Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo in Louisville, Ky., where he placed in all three rounds – including the victory on the final night – and won the average championship. In all, he pocketed $6,736.
“Our circuit finals falls at the perfect time of year,” Aus said. “There were three more horses that you can go shine your spurs on and get you prepared for the NFR.”
He’s been preparing himself for a lifetime. He knows what it means to have opportunity and take advantage of it. When he isn’t riding bucking horses, he’s thinking about it. He knows he will need to be focused mentally and physically to take care of a rugged 10 December nights in the Nevada desert.
“Fundamentally you just think you need to do better on every horse,” he said. “I watch highlights on YouTube when I’m at the gym, and it puts me in that frame of mind so that when I exercise or ride the spur board, I’m in that mentality. This time of year, you just hone your focus and mental game to build that mental toughness. I think that’s the key to 10 good nights.”