Champion snags another check

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LAS VEGAS Just looking at Big Stone Rodeo’s Fired Up, Richmond Champion felt the nerves creeping up.

“He’s kind of intimidating,” said Champion, a bareback rider from Stevensville, Montana. “He looks like there’s a lot going on, but Caleb (Bennett) told me today, ‘Dude, that horse feels so good. He’s fast, and it feels like there’s a ton going on underneath you, but it feels good.’ ”

Champion trusted his eye test and chose to just grit his teeth and handle the fight the horse was about to provide. He was a bit stunned when the animal started bucking.

“Caleb was right, and that’s exactly what he was,” he said. “He was a big empty, wild jump, and then he was just really fast and hits funny, but he sends your feet. I was trying to be really quick to keep up with him, then all of the sudden, the whistle blows and you’re like, “Whoa, what just happened?’ ”

He and Fired Up matched moves for 84 points and finished in a tie for fourth place in Saturday’s second round and pushed his NFR earnings to nearly $27,000 in two days – that money also includes a $10,000 bonus every contestant receives for qualifying. Champion has moved up two spots to 13th in the world standings with $138,527.

“I’ve got nothing to lose this year,” he said. “I’m just having fun, and I want to climb that ladder and see what I can do in 10 days.”

He missed last year’s championship after having neck surgery in March 2022; neck injuries are a common predicament for bareback riders. He’s been back to work all year, but he made sure to take care of his health to ensure his place among the elite cowboys in the game.

“I’m definitely feeling a little tighter through my shoulders today, but that’s very normal for this stage of the NFR,” said Champion, now at his eighth NFR. “I’ve felt way worse here after Day 2 than I do right now. I’m feeling good, and I’ll get a little movement tomorrow beforehand, and then it’s bring on the buckers.”

The third round of bareback riding features the eliminator pen, the hardest-to-ride bucking horses in ProRodeo. The intensity changes a bit amongst the top 15 cowboys, because they know they will be in for a heavyweight bout. He’ll work up a little sweat and prepare his mind and body for the fight ahead.

Most of all, he’ll enjoy the day with his wife, Paige, and their son, Forrest, who just turned 3 months old.

“We finally got him to the point where he’s not supper fussy and it doesn’t take too much to put him to sleep,” said Champion, who has helped calm his baby boy by walking around his Montana house. “Those 40-mile walks a day drastically dropped off at home, then you feel like you’re walking 40 miles around here.

“It’s still an awesome experience.”


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