ARLINGTON, Texas – At just 22 years old, Jess Pope has already played on some of the biggest stages in ProRodeo.
He’s ridden at NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. He’s competed at AT&T Center, home of the San Antonio Spurs. He’s spurred bareback horses at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
On Thursday night, he competed at quite possibly the biggest rodeo of them all, Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers and, most importantly for him, the 2020 National Finals Rodeo.
“This place is awesome,” said Pope, a first-time NFR qualifier from Waverly, Kansas. “I don’t know what it looks like from up in the stands, but on the ground it’s really cool. I’m truly blessed and excited that I get to be here.
“It’s a big arena, and it’s easy to get lost in. I thought I was going to have to pull up my GPS on my phone just to get around. It leaves you speechless.”
It’s also a big moment, and it seems the young gun is thriving. On Thursday night, he rode Cervi Championship Rodeo’s William Wallace for 87 points to finish in a tie for second place. That was worth $18,192 and pushed the senior at Missouri Valley College up three spots to eighth in the world standings.
“It was awesome, and I don’t know how to explain it,” he said. “I just had to go out there and do my job. I’d been on that horse before. I was really glad to have him. It was a blur from the time I got on him until I got off.”
The picture may have been blurry, but Pope’s focus is on point. It’s been that way for a long time. He began riding ponies when he was a youngster while also competing in other events. He trained his attention to bareback riding just a few years ago. Last season, he finished among the top 30 in the world standings.
This year, though, he picked things up, even though the COVID-19 global pandemic made every situation tougher. There were fewer rodeos than a normal year, so he was battling face to face with the best in the world at every place in which he competed.
“I was a little bit nervous, but honestly, it wasn’t much,” Pope said. “I dreamed and prepared for this my whole life. I came in very confident, and I was just excited. I’ve been on most of these horses before. People have told me I’m not here by accident, so I have to believe in that. I was just really excited to go out there and show my stuff.
“I’m right where I want to be. I have a goal to win the average and see where that puts me in the world standings. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I used up my first one. I just have to go out there after it, and the cards are going to fall where they lay.”
He may be just 22 years old, but Pope has his mind locked in.