National Finals Rodeo

Bareback rider Orin Larsen competes during the first go-round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, in Las Vegas.

John Locher, AP file photo

LAS VEGAS — Nobody understands how humbling of a sport rodeo is better than Orin Larsen.

A year ago, he suffered a rib injury early at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and had to learn how to ride through the excruciating pain. Once he did, he found the pay window each of the final five rounds. Through two nights of this year’s grand finale, Larsen has finished near the top of the bareback riding and has pocketed just shy of $35,000.

“It’s dang sure going in my favor,” said Larsen, originally from Inglis, Manitoba, and now living in Gering, Neb., with his new bride, Alexa. “We are just going to keep riding this gravy train as long as we can.”

He has pushed his season earnings to $134,202 and has moved up four spots to sixth in the world standings. It’s all important to the cowboy, who attended both the College of Southern Idaho and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships.

On Friday night, he matched moves with Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Uncapped for 85 points to finish sixth in the second round. That was worth $4,231, but more importantly, it showed just how tough bareback riding is this year. There have been times in recent years that an 85 would have been the round-winner.

“I feel like I rode the best I could,” he said. “The horse had a little slip, and I was given the option of a reride, but I think I made the right choice, regardless.”

Uncapped came out of the chute strong, then fell to the ground before quickly recovering. The slip may have cost Larsen a point or two — and several thousand dollars in pay differential — but that happens in rodeo. He wasn’t mad about his performance.

“I’m pretty happy for the next eight rounds, for sure,” he said. “I feel awesome, 100 percent. It’s different from past years. I love it so far.”

Larsen is one of nine Canadian contestants competing at this year’s NFR. He is joined by fellow bareback rider Jake Vold, and both have earned paychecks on the opening two nights.

“The more times I walk the Strip, the more people I see from Canada,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of people from my hometown, both in Alberta [where he was born] and Manitoba. It is awesome for everyone to come down for the sport.”

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The NFR is the sport’s biggest championship, which features an $8 million purse. A year ago, Larsen earned more than $81,000 and finished third in the final world standings. He knows just how special it is to be among the top 15 bareback riders in the game competing in Las Vegas in December; this is his third straight year.

But riding bareback horses is tough business, and he knows it. It takes a strong focus and true athleticism to make it through 10 straight days of competing on the world’s best bucking broncs.

“As long as I can stay healthy and stay riding good, I’m pretty excited about what’s going to happen by the end of the week,” he said.

He should be.

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