LAS VEGAS – The competition is often brilliant at the National Finals Rodeo, which offers a purse of more than $10 million spread over 10 December night.
It’s the combination of both that drives the cowboys. Just ask bareback rider Richmond Champion, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Stevensville, Montana. He rode Calgary Stampede’s Arbitrator Joe for 86 points during Sunday’s fourth round to finish in a four-way tie for third. That was worth $9,688.
“We are winning money,” Champion said with a smile. “I don’t care if we have to split it 13 ways; I’ll take it. There wasn’t much gap from first to third, so it doesn’t change the average much. I’m feeling good. I’m just building on it.”
Yes, he is. He finished just out of the money in the first two rounds, but he’s made up for it the past two. He’s pushed his NFR earnings to $41,025 and sits eighth in the world standings with
Of course, having a good horse is a big part of each ride. Judges mark half the score on how well the animal performs, and the other half is marked by how well the cowboy spurs the horse from its neck to his rigging while in rhythm with the animal’s bucking motion. Arbitrator Joe fit the bill well.
“I’ve seen him a lot,” Champion said. “Tim (O’Connell) beat me this summer in Calgary (Alberta) on him, and he was 90. I knew it was a big opportunity, especially in this round. All the horses were really nice, but you needed to have something that has a little more to them. There were five or six that really did, and I was happy to have one of them.”
Of course, the horse also had a pretty good jockey on its back. He’s been one of the elite bareback riders in the game since he burst onto the stage in 2014. The only thing missing is that Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to a world champion.
After battling through the first three days of riding some of the greatest bucking horses in ProRodeo, he was able to work through some of the soreness that comes with being a bareback rider.
“I feel great now,” Champion said. “I’ve had a good warm-up, and then I’ll get on another bucking horse. We are on the backside of it now. Come Round 10, I’ll be ready for 10 more.
“You can work out all you want, but if you’re not getting on bucking horse every day, there’s no way you can work yourself out this way. I’m just getting b ack into riding shape. I think I’m right on the verge of that, and my confidence is through the roof. I’m just excited to have it rolling early.”