LAS VEGAS – In the world of rodeo, each bareback ride can be likened to a major title fight. As a horse jumps and kicks, it’s throwing punches and the cowboy, who returns blows with spur strokes in rhythm with the animal.
The battles over the first two nights of the National Finals Rodeo have been impressive, and it looks to continue through the final eight nights of the 2019 season.
“I knew it was going to be like this, and I expected nothing else,” said Richmond Champion, who earned his second straight paycheck on Friday night by finishing third in the second go-round with an 89-point ride on J Bar J’s Straight Jacket. “I knew I had the horse. Those seem to be the most nerve-wracking times, because you don’t want to mess it up. I think that’s the best I’ve ever had him.
“Sparky (Dreesen of J Bar J) told me he was fresh, and he was going to be all there. He was right. That horse was awesome.”
With that, Champion added another $15,654 to his season earnings. Combined with his Round 1 victory and the $10,000 bonus each contestant receives when they arrive in Las Vegas, he has earned $51,885 in a couple of days. That’s an NFR best, only matched with barrel racer Emily Miller.
As for his ride, an 89-point marking will win most rodeos throughout the year. In fact, it would win most rounds at the NFR, but there may be a changing of the tide inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Opening night featured three 90-point-plus rides, and NFR rookie Trenton Montero won Friday’s round with a 90.5-point ride; three-time champion Tim O’Connell was second at 89.5.
“Good for Trenton,” Champion said. “I had goosebumps for him. That was awesome, then Tim made a great ride. We’re just going to be repeating ourselves all week, but it is a good feeling.”
While the experience in Sin City is magical because of all the great things about the championship, it also is one of the most stressful situations cowboys face all year. They’re chasing after big bucks every night, and they’re all battling for the Montana Silversmiths gold buckles that go to the world champions in each event.
For the bareback riders, they’re also getting on the 100 best bucking horses in the game, all divided into five pens to keep the opportunities equal for each contestant. Their Round 3 and Round 8 draws come out of the “Eliminator Pen,” best known for featuring the hardest-to-ride horses in the game.
“They were picking the pen for (Saturday), and I just walked out of the room,” he said. “Whatever I get is the one I’m supposed to have. Tomorrow isn’t about what anyone else is doing; it’s about what you are doing, which is whatever it takes to ride whatever they draw you. It’s a pen full of dragons, so bring your armor and come to war.
“It is not a fun day. You just want it to be over. But that is why we are here, that is why we ride 10 and bring all sorts of horses, because you are not a world champion if you can’t ride these.”