GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – Rae Ann Aus knew a long time ago she and her husband were raising a rodeo cowboy.
John Aus rode bareback horses 30 years ago, and he was pretty good at it. He won the Great Lakes Circuit in 1988, and he found some key success in his part of the world. Their first born, a son named Tanner, was born in June 1990, and he soon followed in his father’s footsteps. In fact, he’s surpassed his father in some regard, about to embark on a trip to Las Vegas to compete at the National Finals Rodeo for the sixth time in his career.
“I’m very thankful for that,” said Tanner Aus, 31, of Granite Falls. “I had a conversation with my mother shortly after the season was over. She said, ‘You’ve been rodeoing your whole life, and you always think about the NFR, then all of the sudden, you look back and you’re a six-time qualifier.’
“It blows her mind to think about, and it blows my mind, too.”
This will be his sixth NFR in the last seven years. The only year he missed was in 2018, when he was hampered by injuries and still finished 18th in the standings – only the top 15 on the money list in each event advance to the NFR.
He will return to Las Vegas for this year’s championship 11th in the world standings with $85,675 earned through the regular season. It was a good year, one that saw him claim six rodeo titles, including the Western Fest Stampede in his hometown and the Wayne Herman Invitational Xtreme Broncs in Golden Valley, North Dakota.
It’s obvious why the win in Granite Falls was so special, but the victory in western North Dakota held some incredible meaning to the Minnesota cowboy.
“It was that week of Lawton (Oklahoma), Hermiston (Oregon) and Sikeston (Missouri), and we put on a lot of miles,” he said. “We got to Golden Valley, and it was two rounds, and I placed in the first round and won the short round to win that event.
“Wayne was one of my mentors growing up riding bucking horses. I went to his school when I was 12 and 13 years old. Those things he taught me in those days are the same basic fundamentals I still use to this day. It’s also what I teach younger bareback riders.”
He also got to spend time with Herman, the 1992 world champion bareback rider who has since been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“Wayne was there, and I hadn’t seen him in a long time,” Aus said. “My wife and my dad came out, so that was a big deal. Compared to last year, we had a lot more rodeos in our circuit, so my family got to come to a few more rodeos. It’s fun to have my wife and kids on the road with me.
“The toughest part about being on the road is being away from my wife (Lonissa) and the kids. A couple of long stretches this summer made it tough on me for that reason, but it makes it that much better when you get home.”
The children are still young; daughter Bristol turned 3 in May, and son Rowan is a year and a half old. When one travels the country, driving or riding tens of thousands of miles in a calendar year, no amount of FaceTime can make up for being away from those they love the most.
“When I left home in August, Rowan didn’t really say anything,” Aus said. “When I came home at the end of the month, he had eight or 10 words he could say. It was wild that he changes so much in a short time.”
That’s why winning the title in Granite Falls means so much to the humble cowboy, who won the intercollegiate bareback riding title in 2012 while competing at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri.
“That rodeo is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “That’s the one time of year that I get to see my family and friends because I go to my hometown rodeo. Winning it is awesome, bit it’s also one of my favorite weekends the whole year.
“That rodeo committee and that community has built that rodeo up. They’ve doubled their added (sponsorship) money for the contestants four times since (2009).”
In a typical year, Aus is joined at the NFR by his longtime traveling partner, Ty Breuer, but things didn’t quite work out for the North Dakotan. Still, the relationship they have is a key reason Aus has found his way back under the bright lights of Las Vegas.
“You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with,” said Aus, who credits much of his success to his sponsors, Salty Dog Sister Boutique, Granite Falls Dairy Queen, Jug Waterers, Carroll Spur Co., Phoenix Performance Products and Wrangler. “I’ve gotten to travel with some of the greatest individuals I know, guys that are good to be around. We spend so much time together, but everyone handles their fare share of the load win, lose or draw. We’re always trying to amp each other up, especially when the weeks are a little tough.
“We started off with Tyler Berghuis and Kyle Bloomquist, and both are up-and-comers in bareback riding and really good guys. They also live close to me, so that’s nice. Later in the season, we jumped in with Clay Jorgenson for a week and a half until he got banged up, but I’m really thankful for the guys that I travel with for helping me get up and down the road and making the summer and rodeo fun.”
They become a family on wheels and on bucking horses, and that’s important throughout a long season. Whatever time he gets with family, whether he makes the trip home or they find a way to catch up with him, matters all t he more.
“Loni will drive out to meet me on occasion,” he said of his wife. “When we were in Deadwood (South Dakota), she loaded up both kids and went seven hours so I could see her and the kids. She did the same thing when we were in Cherokee, Iowa, for my birthday. That really means a lot to me and makes it a lot easier.”
Make no mistake, life is pretty good for Aus. He has a job he adores, and he gets to travel the country doing it. He’d love to pull down the ultimate prize, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to the world champions each ear.
“I love riding bucking horses, and I have since I was a kid,” Aus said. “I’m thankful that I’m still able to do it, and I really think the best is yet to come. I feel good, I feel ready, and we’re heading back to Vegas.
“Winning the world title is a goal I’ve had in my mind since I was a kid. That’s the whole point. That’s the driving force. I’m still striving for it. That’s the end goal. I’ve been closer some years than others, but the only guys that get a chance are the 15 that are going to Vegas in December.”