Bareback rider Orin Larsen competes, en route to hitting the money, during the first go-round of the National Finals Rodeo Thursday in Las Vegas. JOHN LOCHER / AP
LAS VEGAS — There had never been a qualifier from Manitoba make the National Finals Rodeo until this year.
Now there are two.
They are brothers Orin, 24 and Tyrel Larsen, 26, of Inglis, Man. Both graduated from Goose Lake High in Roblin, Man., and bareback rider Orin cashed his first check in Vegas on Thursday — the lone Canadian to do.
“It was a fun horse,” said Larsen of Wild N Blue from the Growney Brothers string of California. “It was kind nerve racking, (being) a rookie going at his first NFR. I’ve gotta be oblivious to the world and oblivious to the bright lights in Vegas and bring the fight to the horse instead of the other way around.”
The California-Canada connection teamed up for 81 points to split the third spot in the round four ways, worth $9,413. Those winnings move the former college national champion up six spots, to seventh in the world, past the $100,000 mark on the year.
“There’s no bigger stage in the world and I’m just really blessed and really fortunate to be here,” Larsen said. “To dedicate your whole life to make it to this point, it’s definitely a special feeling. It’s kind of like every little kid with a baseball bat dreams of hitting at the World Series. I’m just like that but in a bareback riggin’.”
Brother Tyrel was bucked off a Canadian horse, Rubels (Big Stone Rodeo), in Round 1. It’s been a long road to Vegas for him.
“Everyone here deserves to be at the NFR but in my opinion, Tyrel deserves it more than anything,” Orin said. “Two years ago he missed the NFR by one spot, and last year he was fifth in the world but tore out his knee which took him out of the whole season.
“I was more happy for him to make it than I think he was. I was hollering up and down and I was screaming, I was excited. To be at the NFR is a great honour and great privilege but to make it with your brother, it’s a whole new meaning of special.”
Their support from their family home in Manitoba is unwavering and it follows across the nation.
“It blows me away every time I think about it,” Orin said. “I’ll get calls from family and friends then Mom and Dad will tell Tyrel and I, ‘So and so says good luck.’
“Tyrel and my old high school did a big video on us on Facebook wishing us good luck. That was really special. It’s blown me away every time I think about it. Without support, we’re nothing.”
Two-time Canadian Steer Wrestling Champion Tanner Milan of Cochrane had a great start out of the box but drew a tough steer. Milan’s steer slowed down right as he jumped off his horse and almost got away. Not giving up as the aggregate now pays $67,269, he finished the run for a time of 6.1, leaving him out of the money.
Clint Laye of Cadogan, Alta. would have liked to start off his first bucking horse ride in the Thomas & Mack Center better. Laye made a ride that would have likely placed in the round on a horse raised in Canada by Darcy Hollingsworth (Wilson Sanchez), but missed the five-year-old mare out of the chute, resulting in a no score.
The 2015 Calgary Stampede saddle bronc champion Zeke Thurston of Big Valley, Alta., rode another Hollingsworth-raised bucking horse. Pedro has been a Wayne Vold bucking horse for the past few years after being purchased here in Las Vegas. The score for the two on Thursday was out of the money but Thurston still leads the chase for the Rookie of the Year title.
And Okotoks barrel racer Deb Guelly tipped a barrel to finish last in the field on opening night.