LAS VEGAS – Whether it’s on a football field in Pendleton, Oregon, or a baseball diamond in Arlington, Texas, or t a basketball arena in the City of Lights, Jess Pope will ride bucking horses anywhere.
On Sunday night, he rode Championship Pro Rodeo’s Meat Cracker for 84.5 points to finish sixth in the third round of the National Finals Rodeo. He is three for three so far at the NFR, and the $4,953 he pocketed for that ride pushed his Sin City earnings to $51,602; he is fifth in the world with just shy of $180,000 on the season.
“It’s always a hard round,” Pope said, referring to the eliminator pen of bucking horses that are featured in Rounds 3 and 8. “Everyone’s sore from the first two. These will jerk it out of us. These are the hardest horses that we can put together. They’re the horses nobody wants to get on.”
It was also Memorial Night, where qualifiers who have died are remembered. One was Trenten Montero, who was killed in a rodeo accident in the arena this past August at the age of 31. All 15 qualifiers reflected on his passing and the kind of human being he was. Montero qualified for the 2019 finale.
“I’m wearing blue for Trenten,” said Pope, the reigning world champion from Waverly, Kansas. “If there was a bareback rider who didn’t have a tear in his eye after that opening, I’ll be shocked. It was really hard to try to come back from that.
“I was the 11th guy out, and you’ve still got to try to gather yourself back up. You’re also getting on the baddest bucking horses in the eliminator pen. You have to try to go from that to being in killer mode. It’s tough. It takes a very mentally strong human, and with those guys were all out before I was, I’m impressed with how mentally strong they are.”
A good mental approach is important in rodeo, whether the cowboys are getting on the hardest-to-ride broncs in the business or traveling overnight from one rodeo to another. It’s a cornerstone to why Pope has been so successful, especially when he arrives at the NFR. He’s a three-time and reigning average champion – as a four-time qualifier, he doesn’t know what it’s like not to win the aggregate title.
With seven rounds remaining, he’s a long way from grabbing a fourth. He has ridden three horses for a cumulative score of 254 points; he’s just a half point behind the average leaders, Wyoming cowboy Cole Reiner and Utahan Mason Clements, the latter of whom won the round. Pope was content in having a solid ride on a bronc he knows well.
“That horse has never had the same trip twice,” he said. “You just never know what she’s going to do. I was pretty nervous to get by that one, because of how small she is and how big I am. She definitely bucks; she’s really fast, and you’ve got to be doing everything fully correct to make it happen.”