Pope scores big on electric horse

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LAS VEGAS – When a bolt of lightning fires, it can send shockwaves.

Reigning world champion bareback rider Jess Pope got to experience that with Macza Pro Rodeo’s Stevie Knicks. The dark sorrel mare provided enough electricity to help produce an 88.5-point ride and push Pope to a third-place finish in Tuesday’s fifth round of the National Finals Rodeo.

“She’s been around forever, and I’ve wanted to get on her so many times,” said Pope, 25, of Waverly, Kansas. “You can be the most amount of points on Stevie Knicks. I’ve been next to her name – (one spot from being matched via random draw) – four times, and it finally landed on mine this time. It was everything that I dreamed it would be.”

The fifth and 10th rounds feature the top bucking horses and the bulls in the game. Each grouping is called the TV pen, which dates back to a time when only the final round was aired on national broadcasts.

“It was a really tough bareback riding,” said Pope, who was bested by Oklahoman Jayco Roper and Californian Clayton Biglow, who shared the top spot with 89.5-point scores. “That’s our TV pen, and there are the best horses in the world in that pen. We put 20 of those together, and they are the highest-marked horses all year.

“Stevie Knicks feels like a stick of dynamite going off underneath you. I’ve been on maybe one other horse my whole life that felt like her. She’s small and compact with the way she hits the ground and gets up in the air and uses her whole body. She extends her feet to kick and to move. It’s just a different feeling. She’s an amazing athlete. She’s a small horse that bucks like a big one.”

He has placed in four of five rounds so far and has earned just shy of $70,000 since arriving in Las Vegas. It was the third time he’s placed third, which is worth $18,325. He has moved up four spots to sixth in the world standings with $196,975.

The only round in which Pope hasn’t place came Monday. He was 81 points on Championship Rodeo’s Vegas Confused, and the bottom spot in the payout was 2.5 points higher.

“They were second on that horse in the ninth round last year,” he said. “Just like people, everyone can have an off day, and she had an off day. There’s still a lot of money to be won out here. I’m very confident in my riding. I feel really good, and I feel strong.

“I’ve got a new trainer, (fellow bareback rider) Caleb Bennett. He’s been training me for just under a year. I had asked him for a lot of advice throughout the last year, and I decided I was going to put my faith into him to be able to make sure I was in tip-top shape; he’s done an excellent job.”

It’s paying off. The three-time NFR average champion is in position to repeat. He is fourth in the aggregate standings, just five points behind leader Mason Clements of Utah. Making rides like he did Tuesday can be beneficial by the time the curtain falls Saturday night.

“That horse is very steep,” Pope said. “There were three or four jumps in the middle of the arena that I was tucking my chin, looking down at the ground rather than getting to see her head because she was breaking over her front end so hard that it really wants to throw you over the front. I was able to bear down and get through it.”


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