GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – Some veteran athletes utilize tricks of the trade to excel.
Tanner Aus has that in his back pocket should he ever need it. Now 33 years old, he’s the oldest bareback rider heading to this year’s National Finals Rodeo. It’s the eighth time in nine years that he’s finished the regular season among the top 15 in the world standings. The one year he missed, 2018, he was just outside the qualifying mark.
“I like to think I’m a little more tactical,” said Aus of Granite Falls, Minnesota. “There are things you have to consider as you start to get older and you take care of your body. You don’t heal quite as fast as you once did. You don’t bounce like you used to, so, yes, my style has changed some over the years but not necessarily on purpose.
“Really it’s just me sticking to my fundamentals, the stuff that carries you through. If my style has changed, it’s not deliberate; it’s just me sticking to what I know and trying to continually improve with where I’m at in my career.”
He’s had a good career, one that began in 2009 as a second-generation bareback rider. His father, John, was a regional champion in his glory days, and son has followed suit. Tanner Aus went to Iowa Central Community College and Missouri Valley College on rodeo scholarships, earning the 2012 national championship at the Marshall, Missouri, school.
He first qualified for ProRodeo’s grand finale in 2015 and has continued to be one of the elite barback riders in the sport. He’s finished among the to 10 in the world standings six times, so his place among the greatest in the game has been established.
He won $119,897 during this year’s regular season and will embark on his eighth trip to the NFR as the No. 12 bareback rider in the world standings.
“I’m pretty thankful just about every fall when the season goes my way,” said Aus, who shares his life with his wife, Lonissa, and their three children, Bristol, 5; Rowan, 3; and Ember, 1. “I always reminisce about when I was a little kid thinking about making the NFR and the years as a professional that I’ve been making it. It’s just pretty unreal that I’m still living the dream after all these years, still able to do what I love.”
That attitude has been a shining light for Aus, something he carries with him whether he’s at a small rodeo in Cherokee, Iowa, or at the Calgary Stampede in Alberta. He can reflect on his first year in Las Vegas, and he can see all the things that happened in 2023 that led to his return to the Nevada desert.
“I’d say 2015 was one of those years where there was sort of a changing of the guard, because there were four or five of us that were making the NFR for the first time,” he said. “We were riding against Kaycee Feild and Will Lowe and Bobby Mote, some of the winningest bareback riders ever. I think there are five guys making their first finals this year, so it’s another changing of the guard.
“There are a lot of young, really talented guys right now, so that’s probably the biggest difference that I’ve seen recently.”
Meanwhile, Aus remains a steady figure in the bareback riding locker room, which is filled with just the top 15 cowboys on the money list at the end of the regular season. It took more money than ever to make that elite company.
Put it into perspective: When Aus made the NFR the first time, he arrived in Sin City eighth in the world standings with about $86,000. This year he’s 12th, even though he earned nearly $40,000 more.
“I think it was just rodeo,” he said, noting that he earned at least a share of 15 victories. “They let you go to 100 rodeos, and I’m usually going to go to 100 if I’m healthy. I had the best fourth of July ever in the 13 years of trying.
“I also made a pretty good chunk of change in Calgary, and that set up my season.”
He did well at the biggest rodeo north of the border. He placed in all three preliminary rounds, then finished third overall to collect $27,000 in Canada.
“I was lucky to stay healthy throughout the season, and when every dollar counts, I’m going to try to make them count,” said Aus, who credits some of his success to his sponsors, Unbeetable Feeds, Salty Dog Sister Boutique, Granite Falls Dairy Queen, Platform Marketing, John Galt Mortgage Co., Bakko Industries, Carroll Spur Co., Phoenix Performance Products and Wrangler.
“When you look at the kind of money it took to make the finals this year, it’s a testament to our sport and our association and our sponsors that rodeo is moving in a good direction.”
Competing that much through a given season means the Minnesota cowboy spends a lot of time away from home and away from his growing family. Because he knows the rodeo road as well as anyone, he always comes up with a plan to stay close to his wife and kids beyond video chats and phone calls.
“I’m definitely a little more strategic about travel and, with having a family, I do a lot more flying than I ever used to,” he said. “It’s about showing up the places where I need to be and getting back home to my kids as soon as I can. That said, if there are rodeos going on and I’m healthy, I have the blessing of my wife, and I’m going to be gone.
“It’s tough leaving home. That’s the hardest part of it. I bring my family with me when I can and miss them and miss them like crazy when I can’t.”
Whether they’re in the rig with him while trapsing across the Midwest or just cheering him on by watching a rodeo’s broadcast, Aus experiences the love from each member of his family. There’s nothing like that feeling when he’s about to nod his head and burst out of the chute on the back of a bucking horse.
“I think the support I have at home is the biggest thing to me having another good year,” Aus said. “Between Loni and my kids being happy for me and my parents and sisters and their families supporting me, it’s pretty cool. With The Cowboy Channel and social media, they can all keep track of what’s going on.
“I couldn’t do it without my folks stepping up or Loni’s folks stepping up to help us when I’m not around. Without the blessings of my wife, it definitely wouldn’t be possible. The biggest attribute to any of my success is just the support I have. I am a product of the sacrifices other people have made on my behalf. I’m pretty lucky that way.”
Aus has proven to be one of the greatest bareback riders of his generation, and he has a cast of people in his life with whom to share it.