INGLIS, Manitoba – In western Manitoba, Kevin and Wanda Larsen instilled a strong work ethic in their four children. It continues to pay off.
For Orin Larsen, he’s worked to become one of the best bareback riders in professional rodeo. He’s earned that distinction over the years, now a six-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He’s also the reigning reserve world champion, having finished the 2019 season as the runner-up to the titlist, Clayton Biglow.
But Larsen knows what it means to work for something, and he’s bound to continue that labor of love until he earns the title he covets, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle awarded to the world champ. Even when the COVID-19 global pandemic shut so much of the world down, Larsen went to work.
“Other than working out and staying in shape, I did day work for a guy in Morrill, Nebaska,” said Larsen, who now lives in Gering, Nebraska, with his wife, Alexa. “It was good, honest work, and it was good to be on the agriculture side of work for some income, but that made me want to do better as a bareback rider.”
He’ll have his chance to win some serious rodeo cash at this year’s NFR, set for Dec. 3-12 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The stadium – home to the Texas Rangers and the 2020 World Series – is scheduled to be the one-year host of ProRodeo’s grand finale since restrictions forced the NFR to move from Las Vegas, its home since 1985.
Larsen enters the NFR with $82,391, the third best in bareback riding. A year ago, he finished the regular season with nearly $175,000 in earnings; just finishing halfway there this season was quite an accomplishment, because fewer than half the rodeos on a typical year took place, and many that were canceled were some of the larger events in the game.
“You were traveling a lot of miles for little return,” said Larsen, who credits his sponsors – Durango Boots, Levi Bowlin Chiropractic, RodeoTax.com, Rock & Roll Denim, Rieta Creek Scoreboards and Tim Cooper Custom Hats – with much of his success. “As a competitor, you have to be a bit optimistic. I got to go to places I’ve never been before and travel uncharted territory. It was the coolest thing.
“It wasn’t the ideal one, given what we were in, but for what we had, I enjoyed the heck out of this year. It was a new experience.”
So will be playing the sport of rodeo on a baseball diamond, which is what will happen in December. He’s played it in NFL stadiums – he won The American at AT&T Stadium, which is next door to Globe Life Field and has done well at RodeoHouston at NRG Stadium – inside hockey rinks and in arenas of every size in between.
“I played baseball as a kid until right before I started rodeoing, but that’s as close as I’ve ever been to competing at a Major League Baseball stadium,” he said. “I’m pretty stoked about where we’re going to be in December. Whether it was going to be in Vegas or Texas, it was going to be a different year.
“I’m just happy there is an NFR and a gold buckle. It’s cool that it’ll be at an amazing place like Globe Life Field.”
It’s an atypical ending to an atypical year, but that’s OK for Larsen, who attended the College of Southern Idaho and Oklahoma Panhandle State University on rodeo scholarships. More than that, he won national titles while competing at both schools.
As his positive outlook has progressed through 2020, he considers every aspect of a tough year professionally as a benefit in some regard.
“To come home when you want more money coming in when you’re typically rodeoing in a normal year might be a drag, but I got to be home and knock out some projects at home and be home for more than a week in July,” said Larsen, who picked up at least a share of the victory at 10 rodeos through the season.
“The money I did make was because I was pretty fortunate to draw really good horses at the right time. It was pretty cool and worked out really well. I was really happy with how everything went.”
That included just as much time on the road but fewer stops to break up the distance. It came down to old-fashioned grinding.
“I was talking to my wife and my parents, and I just said that it’s going to come down to who wants to drive from Kadoka, South Dakota, to Crossett, Arkansas, and try to win and try to be competitive,” he said. “I think this year showed a lot of heart for a lot of guys to show the hard work and miles make the bet out of a bad year.”
Through the challenges and success that come in any given year for any competitor, it’s now time to focus on what’s at hand: Ten nights of riding the greatest bucking horses in the sport and battling for a big share of the biggest purse in the game.
“I’ve really honed in on my physical conditioning, and I want to have my mind right when I get to Arlington,” Larsen said, noting that it took a couple of NFR appearances before he had the right mental approach to battle for ProRodeo’s gold. “After the first two or three, I realized I had the capabilities to win the world title and that it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
“From there on, just don’t worry about the outcome. We enter rodeos and we travel, and we go to the NFR to spur bucking horses.”