Rank horse gives Champion a boost

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Richmond Champion rides Stace Smith Pro Rodeo’s Mr. Harry for 88.5 points during Saturday’s third round to earn his first payday of this year’s National Finals Rodeo.

LAS VEGAS Instead of feeling frustrated that he’d finished just out of the money in the first two nights of the National Finals Rodeo, Richmond Champion relaxed and realized he was still in a good position.

He also knew the random draw would work in his favor through the 10 rounds of ProRodeo’s grand championship, so he bided his time and enjoyed being on the biggest stage in the sport. His time came during Saturday night’s third go-round on the toughest-to-ride horses in bareback riding.

Champion rode Stace Smith Pro Rodeo’s Mr. Harry for 88.5 points to finish in second place in the “Eliminator Pen,” pocketing $21,336 in the process.

“When you pride yourself on being a rank-horse rider and can do it on the biggest stage, it just solidifies things,” said Champion, 28, of Stevensville, Montana. “(Sunday) is the hoppers, so if you can do it on the buckers, you can do it on those, too.”

The “Hopper Pen” features the easiest horses to ride, and the winner will likely be the cowboy that puts together the best spur stroke, moving the heels of their boots from the horse’s neck to their rigging and back to the neck in rhythm with the animal’s bucking motion.

“You don’t take those horses any lighter, mindset-wise,” he said. “You definitely have to have the confidence that you can do this, that you’re primed and the chili is hot.”

Confidence is the key, and momentum plays a role in that. Sometimes the heat of the moment just continues on for several days, and that’s going to be the key for Champion to battle for the coveted Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to each year’s world champions.

“I think things have been rolling,” Champion said. “I’ve been out here to win the first go-round, and then it goes cold, and I’ve been out here when you don’t win anything, then your turn it on and don’t stop winning checks. It’s just Vegas; I’m not worried, and tonight didn’t change my game plan because I hadn’t won anything.

“I love the eliminator pens; just as much as I hat them, I love then and know I thrive in them. When I got the stock list (Friday) night and saw I had Mr. Harry, I was jacked. That is just so solid, and I know that I believe in myself and my style.”

It worked, but Champion has been rather successful at the NFR over the years. Now in his seventh qualification, he’s gained enough experience to know what he needs to do during the day to be prepared for battle every evening.

“I’ve learned to say no to all the Vegas things that you can get involved in, the things that where you can wear yourself out,” he said. “I cook my own food, I make time to take a nap, and I relax. I’m on the road to the arena by 3:30 (p.m.), and all of the sudden it’s time to put our riggings on our horses.”

With his Saturday night special, Champion has pushed his season earnings to $130,282. More importantly, he’s built on his positive mindset to push through the final seven nights of the season.

“I’m out here to ride bucking horses, have fun and win money,” Champion said. “As long as I stay focused on that, everything will fall into place.”


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