INGLIS, Manitoba – This has been a year to remember for Tyrel Larsen.
“This is one of the biggest years of my life,” Larsen said. “I got hurt last year, so I went up to Canada to work. I came back, bought a house and planned a wedding while I rodeoed all year, and then found out that we’re having a baby.
“It’s going to be a little hard to top it.”
He’ll have a chance to add to a phenomenal 2015 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas. This marks his first qualification to ProRodeo’s grand finale, featuring the largest purse in the game. Go-round winners will collect more than $26,000 per night for 10 glorious days in the Nevada desert.
“It’s awesome to finally make it,” Larsen said of the NFR. “It’s almost like I’m not as worried about it anymore. It’s a big relief off your shoulders after being so close for a few years. Anything I get done out there is a big plus.”
Larsen has been on the outside looking in for several years. He joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association six seasons ago, and just missed out on making the NFR in 2013, when he finished 16th – only the top 15 in each event qualify for the year-end finale.
“With all the money that’s out there, it’s very possible for a guy in 15th to jump up there and win a gold buckle,” he said.
In rodeo, the contestant in each event who finishes the campaign with the most earnings is crowned the world champion. Larsen has given himself a chance with a last-ditch effort that paid off. Heading into the final weekend of competition in late September, he sat 16th in the standings and needed a few thousand dollars to move up one spot.
“I think just being in that situation before was really beneficial this year,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about it, just nervous about making it into the top 15. I just needed to focus on what I could do; if it worked, it worked. That helped me stay calm through those last rodeos. Just go ride and not worry about anything else.”
It worked. Now he will join his brother, bareback rider Orin Larsen, as the first two cowboys from the Canadian province of Manitoba to qualify for the NFR. Orin Larsen also is heading to the NFR for the first time after finishing 19th a season ago.
“That’s pretty cool having both of us there,” Tyrel Larsen said. “You don’t always see each other very much traveling so much, but it’s great when we do see each other. We’re always helping each other and trying to keep each other pumped up. We’re both really excited for the finals.”
They should be. It’s the perfect explanation point to years’ worth of hard work and excelling in the sport of their choice. Of course, rodeo always was a way of life for the Larsens, including their brother, Kane. Now 22, he followed in his brothers’ footsteps and is competing in rodeo at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell.
“We all grew up on a ranch helping my dad at home,” Tyrel Larsen said. “I played baseball in junior high and started riding steers a little bit. Dad said it was either baseball or going to rodeos. Ever since then, we never looked back.”
It’s treated him well. In Manitoba, he learned the lessons of hard work and understanding livestock. He carries that with him today.
“It’s a long winter,” he said. “We’re right at a valley, and you’re working cows in the trees. There are times you can’t go in there with all the snow, and the cows are hiding in the trees.
At Panhandle State, Larsen met his future bride. Chaney Larsen is the daughter of then-rodeo coach Craig Latham, a nine-time NFR qualifier in bronc riding. That’s where Tyrel Larsen truly developed into a consistent competitor.
“My freshman year in college, we had a pile of good bronc riders there,” he said, pointing to a group that includes two-time world champion Taos Muncy, four-time Linderman Award winner Trell Etbauer and the reigning two-time reserve world champ Cort Scheer. “When you went to practice with all them, it was good a good bronc riding.
“You learned to put out the right amount of effort. You had a lot of alumni that were there helping, too, like Craig, Robert (Etbauer) and Danny (Etbauer). All those guys would show us what it meant to try hard.”
Craig Latham and the Etbauer brothers – including middle brother Billy – traveled the rodeo circuit together through the late 1980s and ’90s. Robert Etbauer owns two bronc riding world championships, and Billy Etbauer is a five-time titlist. Combined the four of them have dozens of NFR qualifications.
Larsen fine-turned his craft as he worked closely with some of his rodeo idols.
“Craig’s always been there for me,” Larsen said. “When I first showed up in Goodwell, I wasn’t that great of a bronc rider, and he kept me out of trouble.
“He has helped me so much. He bought me a saddle when I was in a bind, and he always believed in me. Just having him walk Chaney down the aisle was pretty cool.”
Larsen spent much of his 2015 season traveling the rodeo trail with Muncy, Isaac Diaz and Zeke Thurston, and all four have earned the right to be in Las Vegas this December. That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a sign that there is a lot of talent all riding in one vehicle from one event to the next.
Like Larsen, Thurston is heading to his first NFR. He is 21 years old from Big Valley, Alberta, while Diaz returns to the NFR for the fifth time; this year, the Desdamona, Texas, cowboy sits fourth in the world standings. Muncy, of Corona, N.M., is fifth heading to his eighth NFR.
“I think staying healthy was one of the biggest things for us all this year,” said Larsen, whose parents, Kevin and Wanda, live in Inglis. “Isaac and Taos were way up there in the standings, and Zeke had an unbelievable year. Everybody in the rig won some pretty prestigious rodeos. By having that much confidence in the van this year, it’s pretty hard not to win.”
Of course, having support away from the road is always valuable, whether it’s with the Lathams in Oklahoma or his own family in Manitoba. While his father runs the ranch, his mother runs a barber shop. His sister, Cassie, also is a hair stylist, and she and her husband are part of a family farming operation.
“I went to college, because it was big in the family to get your education,” he said. “When my parents found out you could get your education paid for by rodeoing, they thought it would be a good idea.
“About halfway through my education, my ability started to improve, and I saw this was an opportunity to make a little bit of money rodeoing. If I can make a living riding broncs, that’s what I’m going to do. If I can support my family and pay for stuff through rodeo, then there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Tyrel Larsen is chasing his dreams one bronc at a time.