INGLIS, Manitoba. – Winning a world championship is never easy. In rodeo, it takes amazing athletic feats and a little bit of luck.
Orin Larsen has been close to claiming that Montana Silversmiths gold buckle. In 2019, he finished just behind titlist Clayton Biglow. Three years prior to that, he was third in the final world standings. He finished the 2023 regular season with $147,237 and enters his ninth National Finals Rodeo as the No. 6 man on the bareback riding money list.
“I definitely have a shot to win the world this year, especially with the amount of money that’s available when we get to Vegas,” said Larsen, 32, originally from Ingles, Manitoba, but living in the western Oklahoma community of Hydro. “I like my chances, but we’re going to have a locker room full of wolves when we get there, so I don’t expect it to be easy.
“I have a decent shot at winning, and we’re not going to hold anything back.”
That’s not his style. At 6-foot and 165 pounds, Larsen has made a name for himself by being an aggressive bareback rider. His long legs shine as he spurs in rhythm with the horse’s bucking motion, and that’s been a big reason why he’s won so much over his career.
Since he first earned a trip to Las Vegas in 2015, he’s remained one of the elite bronc busters in rodeo. He had to miss most of last year’s NFR after suffering a thumb injury that required surgery on his riding hand, but he bounced back to return to ProRodeo’s grand championship.
“Making the finals nine times is a hard number for me to really comprehend,” said Larsen, who won national titles while competing at both the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell. “I guess I’ve always wanted to make the NFR numerous times. For this being my ninth time, it’s no different than the first time.
“It’s exciting, and I’m extremely grateful to have that opportunity again.”
The opportunity is not only to battle for rodeo’s gold; it’s also a chance to build on a season’s worth of success. Go-round winners will pocket nearly $31,000 for 10 nights in Sin City. Save 2022 when his thumb injury forced Larsen to miss most of the championship, he has had his share of luck at the NFR. Even though he placed just one night last December, he still finished 14th in the final world standings.
He is a regular when it comes to battling for the world championship. This year was a bit different than others. He sat out the first three months as he healed that damaged thumb. He returned but didn’t ride like he’s used to.
“Not knowing if I was ready to be back from an injury like that and still be competitive got to me a little,” he said. “I started in Houston, and things felt slow. It just wasn’t going how I wanted it to go.”
He got the adjustment he needed. Larsen left Oklahoma in May, and he didn’t return until the end of September. That four months on the road was not only good for his pocketbook, but it also helped his mental approach. He spent more time in his home country and found success. Of his 10 bareback riding titles, six were in Canada. His biggest was claiming the title in Ponoka, Alberta.
“When I went to Canada, everything started clicking for me,” said Larsen, who credits part of his success to his sponsors, Panhandle and Rock & Roll Clothing, Rugged X Expeditions, Durango Boots, Rieta Creek Scoreboards and Tim Cooper Custom Hats. “Once I gained the momentum of that, it just translated back down to the states, and it’s worked well for me down here, too.”
In June, he was on the outside looking in. Only the top 15 contestants in the world standings advance to the NFR, and he was just hoping to squeak in. He transformed his season along the way and now stands at the door to a world championship.
“It was pretty interesting,” he said. “I was really fortunate in that I drew good everywhere. I started having fun and really enjoying the sport on a more genuine level than I’ve felt in a long time. I think that was the secret of it all: Just having fun going down the road with your pals and getting on the greatest horses in the world.
“It felt like I was living it and having fun, and then that translated into my riding.”
Part of that process, too, allowed for Larsen to spend more time with family. When he first returned to Oklahoma earlier this year, he spent a lot of time with older brother Tyrel and his family in Weatherford. Hanging out with nephews Charlie and Waylon offered a great break from the troubles on the rodeo trail.
While in Canada, where most of the rodeos were in the province of Alberta, he spent considerable time with his younger brother, Kane.
“It was an absolute ball up there, and that’s really where most of the momentum shift happened this year,” Orin Larsen said. “I didn’t make it back to Manitoba when I was up there, but our folks came down here in October and were at the Canadian Finals (in Red Deer, Alberta, in early November). Them and my sister will be in Vegas, so that will be good.”
The sport of rodeo can be a struggle sometimes. No matter how much cowboys love the freedom that comes with it, the road can be long and lonesome. Over the past year, Larsen has seen many changes that have come with both his physical attributes and his mental game. He understands what it takes to compete at a high level, and he’s gone about the business of making it happen.
He’s proven himself as an elite bareback rider, and he’s eager to clear that mountaintop and claim his own gold buckle.
“I can look back over the last 10 years and not only see where I was at a certain time, I can see what happened in rodeo and what was going on in my life,” Larsen said. “I can look back at that little timeline and realize it was really fun. But as far as this year, it’s a whole new game.
“I’m having more fun than I’ve remembered having. It’s a huge game-changer to have that aspect of the sport restored in myself.”