LAS VEGAS – Not many people in rodeo are more consistent at the National Finals Rodeo than bareback rider Jess Pope.
He’s won the last three NFR average titles and is the reigning world champion, and he’s done it with a steady run of success since he first qualified in 2020. There’s more proof, though: In his fourth trip to ProRodeo’s grand finale, Pope has ridden seven broncs for a cumulative score of 593 points and shares the aggregate lead with Coloradoan Keenan Hayes with three nights remaining on the season.
He continued his dominance inside the Thomas & Mack Center with an 84.5-point ride on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Wilson Sanchez to finish fifth in Wednesday’s seventh go-round. That was worth nearly $8,000 and pushed his Las Vegas earnings to $77,851. He is eighth in the world standings with $204,899.
“This is the third time I’ve been on that horse at the NFR,” said Pope of Waverly, Kansas. “I got on it my first year in 2020 and again in the second round last year. I’ve pulled a check every time. It’s a pretty solid horse to have in this pen. No, it’s not a go-round win, but it keeps a guy solid in the average.”
There are 100 bareback horses at the NFR, all selected by the cowboys that ride them in Las Vegas. They are separated into five groups, and each one has a few horses that stand out. Pope knew his match-up probably wouldn’t earn him the round title, but maintaining a solid performance is key; earning money at the finale is always nice no matter the size of the payment.
“It seems like I’ve drawn a lot of horses that are middle of the pen all year,” he said. “It got me here, and it’s still winning me money. I would sure love to get some horses that you can win a round on, but my time will come. Everything happens for a reason. God’s plan is what it is, and He is preparing me for something bigger than what I’m thinking there’s going to be.”
Seeing the bigger picture is important, though it’s difficult at times. A week ago, an armed man invaded one of the buildings on the UNLV campus and shot four people; three died. It was just a few buildings away from the Thomas & Mack Center. Officials opted to delay the start of the NFR and add a special morning performance that took place Wednesday. That meant the contestants competed twice on the same day.
While their hearts go out to the families that lost loved ones, the contestants were appreciative of the opportunity to still compete for 10 rounds.
“The locker room is good,” Pope said Wednesday. “We had our ‘slack’ for the first time ever at the NFR this morning, and it was a lot of fun. This is probably the funnest day in the locker room that I’ve ever had with two performances in one day.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m sure there are some guys that are sore right now, but I do my preparation for a reason coming in here, and I’m ready for 10 more bucking horses.”
He’ll settle for three and await the close of this year’s championship while hoping to continue his hot streak in Las Vegas.