Cinch bareback rider finds a new passion for rodeo with baby on the way
In the back of his mind, Richmond Champion knew there was something wrong. His arms were numb; his fingers tingled.
It was likely the signs of a man who’d been involved in a few crashes over his lifetime. He is, after all, a bareback rider, and his body takes a beating. Wearing specially designed gloves with binds, bareback riders wedge their hands into a leather-and-wooden rigging, which is strapped tightly to a bronc’s back. They are virtually locked onto every horse they ride.
Arms are jerked, hands are mangled, elbows and shoulders feel the pressure on every ride. Groins are sore, hips ache and their spine can be contorted on every jump.
In the summer of 2021, Champion recognized some significant symptoms to a neck injury. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo and competed through the rugged 10 December nights of ProRodeo’s premier event. He took a few weeks away but resumed his schedule early the next calendar year. By March, he knew something had to be done.
“Through the early winter of 2022, my shoulders would never relax, and my traps were really tight,” said Champion, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Stevensville, Montana. “I finally went to sports med and had them run some strength tests that showed nerve issues, and I failed almost every one of them.
“I got home from The American and had an MRI. It usually takes 24 to 48 hours to hear anything about an MRI, but I got a call in under four hours.”
On the other end was Shawn Scott, a chiropractor with the Justin Sportsmedicine team. Champion’s disc between his C3 and C4 vertebras was bulging and compressing his spinal cord. That was causing all the issues.
“I would just wake up with both my arms asleep a lot,” the Cinch cowboy said. “My body was actually compensating really well, but it was just time that we did something about it.”
Surgeons fused his vertebrae together April 1, and Champion took the remainder of the 2022 regular season off. He didn’t return to riding bucking horses until November and didn’t compete again until mid-December. Over that span, he kept himself busy by guiding fishing adventures, handling the business around his Montana home and spending time with the love of his life, his wife, Paige.
“I was obviously bummed, but part of it was me realizing things were happening for a reason,” he said. “I needed a reason to take a break. Sometimes the world makes that decision for you. I didn’t question it. I enjoyed every minute of my year off. I hadn’t had a summer at home in 12 years. I got to hang out and do different stuff. I obviously missed being on the road, but that was just a phone call away.
“It was a nice break. Come October and November, I was getting the itch again. It’s been that way ever since.”
He gained a new perspective on his life in and out of rodeo.
“Rodeo’s one of those things that when you’ve been doing it that long and are that close to it, it can get frustrating,” Champion said. “You can get bitter and not realize it. I wanted to see how I intended to finish the last half of my career.”
It will be on his terms. He realized the passion he has for riding bucking horses, animals that outweigh him by hundreds of pounds. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with the road. The tens of thousands of miles he’ll travel will be in an effort to cash in on the biggest prize in rodeo, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to each year’s titlists.
The time on injured reserve built a fire that continues to smolder, but it also created a spark in the relationship he and Paige share.
“We decided we actually like each other,” Champion said with a laugh. “We had never really spent that much time together in our relationship, but we had a blast; to the point, it was hard to get back in the swing of leaving and spending time apart.”
Soon, there will be a different tug that will be pulling him back home, a different love affair and one he’s never known. Richmond and Paige Champion are expecting their first child, due in just a few weeks.
“I have a great dad; Paige has a great dad,” he said. “I got to watch a lot of my buddies turn into great dads. Hopefully I’m a better dad than I am a bareback rider.”
He laughed again, but that’s the reality. There are few things in life more important than parenthood, and he has plenty of examples of what it takes.
“There’s no real concern about how I’m going to rodeo and be a dad,” Champion said. “Everyone I know seems to make it work. Rodeo is such a family anyway, and what I’ve seen, it seems to make everything better. This is the next step, a new chapter. I’m really excited for it.”
What’s next for Champion? He will continue to compete as one of the best bareback riders in ProRodeo, and he will continue to chase his world championship dreams. That’s the ultimate goal for anyone who rides wild broncs.
His time off the road, though, gave him some ideas of what to do when his rodeo career ends. He was part of the NFR pregame show on The Cowboy Channel, where he was able to provide some expert analysis and detailed information on the cowboys, the horses and the experience of battling for rodeo’s gold.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “The thing about last year is I took some time to explore some life after rodeo. I really enjoyed doing the preshow. It was a lot more work than riding 10 bucking horses. I would love the opportunity. If that came up down the road, I’d definitely consider it.
“I’m going to work on getting this gold buckle before I do that.”
The drive for world titles never ends. Money can be spent, and mementos can tarnish, but world champions are immortal; they will forever be remembered as one of the greatest ever. Champion hasn’t experienced that yet, but he’s got his mind trained on it and his body in shape to do it. He’s been close, and he’s hoping to return to the NFR to give himself another shot.
“There’s nothing better than riding in Vegas,” Champion said. “When you know you’re going, that sense of accomplishment feels so good, and that’s without thinking about all the money and all the opportunity that awaits you when you get there. I love going … drive over the hill and see the lights of Vegas, the back-number ceremony, the bareback riders’ dinner.
“Our locker room is so tight. You’re about to get on one of the best horses in the world, and the Thomas & Mack is packed out. It goes so fast. Over time, I’ve tried to slow things down and soak everything up, because the next thing you know, the rodeo’s over, and you’re packing up your stuff and leaving town.”
Rodeo is created through unique experiences drafted out of the American West, but its heart and soul is in the cowboys and the dreams they chase.