LAS VEGAS – Truth be told, Jess Pope may have had a bit of revenge on his mind during Tuesday’s sixth round of the National Finals Rodeo.
He was matched with Irish Eyes of the Sankey Pro Rodeo and Phenom Genetics firm, and the two combatants had a bit of history.
“I was excited to have her,” said Pope of Waverly, Kansas. “That horse is actually what broke my ribs in Filer, Idaho, last year. It made making the NFR really tough last year. I really had to battle through stuff, and it actually made me a better bareback rider today because I had to grit through a lot of stuff I didn’t want to.
“I’ve been wanting to get my vengeance over that for a while and give her something back. She is strong and heavy. She really makes you work for it, but it was a lot of fun.”
Pope and Irish Eyes matched up for 87.5 points to finish second in the round. That pushed his six-ride aggregate total to 526.5 points, and he leads the average race with four nights left in the ProRodeo season. He has a 2.5-second lead over Kaycee Feild, the five-time and reigning world champion who leads the world standings.
With that ride, Pope pushed his NFR earnings to $102,893. He is second in the standings with $212,917.
“I’m here to try to win as much money as I can and see where God is going to put us at the end of the week,” he said. “He is making it interesting. It’s a cool story to watch it unfold, and I’m excited for it. There are four days left, and we are going to see what happens.”
His faith is what drives him on a daily basis, whether it’s working cattle back home or riding the best bucking horses in rodeo. This can be a humbling sport at times, and even at 23, he understands that as well as anything.
“You’ve just got to smile whether it’s good or bad,” Pope said. “That’s what I’ve learned coming here. Some days are roses, and some days are rain clouds. This is one of those rose days. The (previous) two days had been more so rain clouds. Just smile and push through it. You get rewarded for what you put into it.”
He qualified for his second NFR, but he’s also playing on ProRodeo’s biggest stage with his traveling partners, Tim O’Connell and Cole Franks. All three got a piece of the pie Tuesday, collecting more than $44,000 altogether.
“You have to keep looking forward,” he said. “The windshield is bigger than the rearview. It is awesome to see our rig in there winning a lot of money. That’s what our goal is all year long. It’s fun to feed off each other. I’m excited to see what the last half has in store.”