INGLIS, Manitoba — Many things went Orin Larsen’s way in 2017.
He qualified for both the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Canadian Finals Rodeo and has established himself as one of the best bareback riders in the sport today. But the best part of his year came on Oct. 14, when he married his longtime girlfriend, Alexa Minch.
“With the help of her folks, she literally did everything to plan the wedding,” said Larsen, a three-time NFR qualifier from Inglis, now living in the Nebraska Panhandle community of Gering. “I did as much as I could on the road, but that wasn’t much. I’d say she did 99.9 percent of it.”
That’s part of living with a ProRodeo cowboy who is on the rodeo trail and away from home for weeks at a time, sometime months. But that’s how he makes a living, and he’s pretty good at it. He just concluded a solid CFR, where he pocketed $30,000 in just five days.
He enters the NFR 10th in the world standings, having earned $99,240 through the regular season. He earned at least a share of the title at 14 rodeos, including four that were lucrative Wrangler Champions Challenge events. It all added up to a nice finish for the Manitoba cowboy.
“I was fortunate enough to make the CFR and the NFR this year, but it wasn’t an easy task by any means,” said Larsen, who won two college national championship, one competing at the College of Southern Idaho and one at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “I got hurt in July, so I spent half of that month at home.”
He separated ribs while competing at the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede. He tried to ride again a few days later but realized his body needed a break.
“I had to drive through Cheyenne (Wyo.) while (the rodeo) was going on because I was hurt,” he said of one of the most popular events in the game, the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. “That was a pretty big pill to swallow.”
It may have become a powerful motivator. He returned to action in early August and quickly went back to work. He moved from 18th to 15th within two weeks of returning and up to 13th by mid-August.
He was matched with good horses, which is a vital part of rodeo. In bareback riding, half the score is on how well the horse bucks, and the other half is on how well the cowboy spurs in motion with the bucking beast. It takes timing, agility and great athleticism to play the game as well as he does.
“At the end of the season, I just drew good enough everywhere and, luckily, stayed healed,” said Larsen, who credits his sponsors, Rieta Creek Scoreboards and Rodeo Tax, with helping him on the rodeo trail. “The Canadian Finals was just plain awesome. It was the toughest year to win anything there because everyone rode outstanding.
“To get on the best horses in the world there three weeks before they go to Vegas is a big plus. It helps us get ready for 10 days in Las Vegas.”
Yes, it does. Vegas is home to the world’s richest rodeo, which features an $8 million purse where go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 a night for 10 rounds. As he enters the NFR — set for Dec. 7-16 — he is a little more than $100,000 behind the leader, Tim O’Connell. But that ground can be made up in four nights if things go Larsen’s way.
But it’s a big challenge, and he knows it. He’s excited to return to the Nevada desert for another December run.
“It means to me that no matter what kind of year you’ve had or what you started with, you can defeat the impossible as long as you have a good support system,” he said. “To defeat the odds in my own mind was truly special to me.”
He learned to handle challenges growing up in western Manitoba. His father, Kevin, runs the family’s ranch, while his mother, Wanda, runs a barbershop in nearby Roblin, Manitoba. His sister, Cassie, is a hairdresser like her mother, and Orin is the middle of three sons, all of whom took to rodeo. In fact, Tyrel and Kane Larsen also attended Panhandle State.
Family has always been a big part of who Larsen is, and adding to it in October was a special to both him and Alexa.
“She kept me looking at the positive things that were going on, the silver lining,” he said. “When I got hurt, I didn’t have much wiggle room to take off. That really stressed me out about making the finals and having a chance.
“She looked at me and said, ‘What’s the worst thing that’ll happen? Missing out on the finals? It isn’t the end of the world.’ By shedding light on that, I realized it was going to be OK. She kept be up beat about the year and made me look at the bright side of things.”
Every ounce of assistance helps, and Larsen took it the way he needed to. Now he gets to play on ProRodeo’s grandest stage in an era where the money up for grabs is unprecedented. He’ll be one of nine Canadians who will try their hands in the game they love inside the Thomas & Mack Center for 10 December nights.
“It’s truly special to represent your country, but it’s more special to have a big team coming down from Canada,” Larsen said. “I hope the tradition keeps going. I hope more Canadians come down south to pursue their dreams of going to the NFR and ultimately winning the gold buckle.”
That’s definitely Orin Larsen’s dream, and he gets another chance to chase it in two weeks.