ARLINGTON, Texas – Jess Pope was just glad to show off a little.
He’s on the biggest stage in rodeo, and Sunday’s group of horses allowed the bareback riders to show every bit of their ability. Pope rode Three Hills Rodeo’s Devil’s Advocate for 85 points to finish in a three-way tie for fifth place in the fourth round of the National Finals Rodeo.
“I’ve been on him twice now,” said Pope, 22, of Waverly, Kansas, a senior at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. “I won a round on him at the (Great Lakes) Circuit Finals. I got on her in Carson, Iowa, this summer, and she fell down on me; it was a bad deal. I got on a re-ride, but I really like that horse.
“She’s just a good one to get on. I’m excited to see her by my name every time it is.”
He may be a newcomer to the NFR, but he doesn’t look like it. Pope earned $3,667 for his Sunday finish, pushing his NFR earnings to nearly $43,000. He sits eighth in the world standings with $92,471.
“(Saturday) night with those eliminators, you’ve got to stay close” to the horse during the spur stroke, he said. “With these horses, they don’t have the drop (out of the air), and they aren’t going to whack you in the back nearly as hard. You can really expose yourself and let it all air out. They are just the fun ones to get on. Everybody just loves getting on those horses.”
Pope also got a bonus, with traveling partner and three-time world champion Tim O’Connell winning the fourth round. Between them, they added nearly $30,000 to the “rig.”
“Our goal is to come in here and one-two this deal every night, whether it be me or him,” Pope said. “Both of us won money, and I’m super happy for him. He has been struggling a little bit, and I’m happy to see him get that round win. Now I can watch him take that back over and get that confidence in him, because he is a bad son-of-a-buck.”
Pope has been receiving quite the rodeo education. He’s studying communication, but he’s learning just as much about the business of riding bucking horses. Of course, nodding his head alongside the greatest bareback riders in the game provides the perfect classroom.
“Everybody here rides just as good as everybody else,” he said. “When you’ve got the best horses paired up against everybody, it is a pure riding contest and a bit of a drawing contest. You’ve got to be able to draw the right ones to be able to place, but you’ve got to do your part and ride the best. Everybody is really good. It is pretty tough, honestly.
“It is awesome. It’s a fight every time you get on. That’s the way it should be.”