THE WOODLANDS, Texas – There are four world champions in this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bareback riding field: Kaycee Feild, Bobby Mote, Will Lowe and Justin McDaniel.
Together, they own 11 gold buckles. They are NFR regulars and veterans.
Richmond Champion is at the opposite end of the spectrum, one of three rookies competing in ProRodeo’s grand championship. But Champion owns more go-round victories than any member of the quartet; Mote, Feild and McDaniel have one round title through seven nights, and the 21-year-old Texan has two.
The latest came Wednesday night during the seventh go-round, where Champion matched moves with Three Hills Rodeo’s Angel Eyes for 86 points. He added another $19,000 to his NFR earnings, now at $39,537.
“I didn’t really know that horse; I’d seen her one time,” he said. “Tim O’Connell won the (Wrangler) Champions Challenge on her in Omaha, so that’s good news coming here.
“I was actually talking to (Three Hills owner) Dave Morehead while I was putting my rigging on her. He said, ‘Richie, you’re not going to win a million tonight, but you might as well win $19,000.’ ”
Champion made his name this year in a non-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, RFD-TV’s The American, where the young cowboy earned $1.1 million for riding bareback horses.
He was the second bareback rider to mount the powerful horse at this year’s NFR; Austin Foss scored 80 points on Angel Eyes to place fourth in the third go-round.
“Austin told me, ‘She was just OK with me, but she’s going to buck today,’ ” Champion said. “ ‘I can already tell she’s a different horse than the day I had her.’ ”
He has earned just two paychecks through seven nights in Las Vegas, but each has come over the last three nights. His earnings have been padded quite nicely by having the top spot at the end of the night. In addition to the big money, he also is awarded a buckle each night he wins a round.
“I didn’t picture the round buckles, because I had the end-sight in mind … the gold buckle, the world championship,” he said. I guess it’s because you assume if you get to that point, other things are going to have to come. I didn’t exactly put in a number. I’m glad I didn’t limit myself to a number of round wins. I keep moving forward.”
The key ingredient is a positive attitude.
“I’m just having fun,” Champion said. “Sometimes you do better when you don’t worry about it. I’m just enjoying the experience, and I’m loving it.”