Richie Champion competes in the Super Series III championship bareback riding event during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at NRG Stadium, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Photo: Karen Warren Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle
Jason McDaniel | Houston Chronicle
Richie Champion competes in the Super Series III championship bareback riding event during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at NRG Stadium, Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Richie Champion’s back in the saddle, and back at his home town rodeo.
The 23-year-old bareback rider, who went to The Woodlands High School, struggled last year after a breakout 2014 season, missed a return to the National Finals Rodeo, then had back surgery in November.
But after two months of recovery, he had just enough time to heat up for RodeoHouston.
Champion won one round and finished third in Super Series III, sending him to the semis with $4,375 Wednesday at NRG Stadium.
J.R. Vezain won the bareback series with $6,000.
“I feel like a rookie again,” Champion said. “I’m excited every time I show up. I’m happy as can be to be setting my gear back down and getting on bucking horses. I went and watched every round of the NFR last year and it twisted my stomach a little bit, and lit a fire, and I’ve carried that fire with me since.”
Champion still finished 23rd in the world last year.
That’s not enough to make the NFR, where he clinched third in the world in 2014, but it did send him home.
This is his fourth consecutive RodeoHouston.
Champion’s made the 10-man final every year, but he’s yet to ride in the four-man Shootout for $50,000.
“In my mind, getting to ride for that $50,000’s only two or three horses away, but you’ve got to take it one ride at a time here,” Champion said. “You can’t start counting your chickens. There’s a lot of talent you have to go up against, and sometimes the semifinals are tougher than the final.”
Tie-down roper Shane Hanchey rides two horses.
He won the first go-round on Reata, the 17-year-old he rode to win Houston in 2011 and a world title in 2013, and he won again in Round 2 – with the exact same time of 8.9 seconds – on 10-year-old Si.
Those wins lifted him to the series victory with $6,000.
“I look at it like a bullpen,” Hanchey said.
“I’m a huge Astros fan, so if I know a lefthanded batter’s coming up, I’m going to throw my lefthanded reliever. That’s how I do it with my horses. I knew I didn’t have a great calf, and my old horse Riata, he’s a veteran, so he doesn’t need as many runs as my younger, more A-team type horse needs.”
Four-time Houston champion Sherry Cervi ($9,000) swept the barrel racing series, making her the first $3 million woman in rodeo, and Kanin Assay emerged victorious in bull riding with $5,750.
Team ropers Clay Smith and Paul Eaves ($12,000), and saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss ($6,000) won their series by winning Round 3, and Josh Clark ($5,750) was the high earner in steer wrestling.
Jason McDaniel is a freelance writer.