LAS VEGAS – When Tanner Aus was a little boy, he watched his dad ride bareback horses and thought about how much fun it would be to follow in those footsteps.
In the years since, he’s been one of the very best in the game, having qualified for ProRodeo’s championship event, the National Finals Rodeo, eight times. At 33, he still loves what he does and has fun doing it. Such was the case with his 84-point ride on Korkow Pro Rodeo’s Dixies Gravy to finish in a tie for fourth place in Saturday’s second go-round.
“That’s really fun to have a horse that you’ve got a chance on and to be able to place amongst the competition that’s here,” said Aus of Granite Falls, Minnesota. “It’s as tough as it’s ever been for as long as I’ve been coming here, so, yeah, I’m happy.”
He earned $10,401 and pushed his earnings to $140,297. Most importantly, he earned a round paycheck and gained a bit of momentum heading into the final eight nights of the rodeo season.
“I knew that horse was kind of wild, and the last few videos I saw of her, she was very consistent,” he said. “She had a couple of big switch-ups, and then at about six seconds, she picks a spot, leaps high into the air and tries really hard. She looks flashy.”
Aus is among the top 15 bareback riders in the world standings. In the mix are three world champions and other cowboys that make up dozens of NFR qualifications.
“The energy in our locker room is good, and everyone’s wound up,” said Aus, the 2012 intercollegiate bareback riding national champion while attending Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. “We’ve gotten to get on our 2 Pen horses and our 3 Pen horses. We’ll have the eliminators tomorrow, and it’s a little bit of a different atmosphere in there.”
The 100 broncs in bareback riding are separated into five pens, and the third round will feature the hardest-to-ride in the game. They are the type that can build fear in men who ride them. The nerves are amped up, and that makes for a quieter, less-jovial gathering in the locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s not like we’re seeing horses we’ve never been around before,” he said. “It’s just a little more serious, and it seems like after that round, the tension eases a little bit.
Bareback riding is the most physically demanding event in rodeo. Cowboys wear gloves with binds in them, then wedge their riding hands into a rigging that is strapped tightly to the animal. Every jump, kick and wiggle is felt. Cowboys can get sore in a hurry.
“You get back into that rodeo shape after around Round 3, and you’ll be a little bit sore,” Aus said. “Barring any major injuries, you just fall into the rhythm of it, and everything starts to move pretty easy.”
Aus is finding the right beat at the right time, and he’s hoping to make it roll at the world’s richest rodeo.