Richmond Champion has already earned a prestigious bareback title, won more than $1 million and qualified for his first NFR. At age 22, he’ll tell you he still has plenty more goals to tackle.

Interview and photography by Ross Hecox, written in the July 2015 Young Western Horseman issue.

Champion

IT TOOK ONLY EIGHT SECONDS for Richmond Champion to rise from being an underdog bareback rider to a million-dollar rodeo star. His 90-point ride on Show Stopper in the ¬final round of The American in 2014 earned him the bareback title at the inaugural event. That championship paid him an unprecedented $1.1 million. But because The American is not a sanctioned Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event, none of that prize money qualified Champion for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Instead, finishing the regular season with nearly $90,000 in sanctioned money—earned by riding in more than 100 rodeos that year—was the ticket to his ¬first NFR appearance. There, the young bareback rider proved he wasn’t some one-hit wonder, winning Round 5 of the NFR and ¬finishing third in the world standings with $198,075. In March, Champion returned to The American, but couldn’t repeat his 2014 exploits. This summer, he is busy working to qualify for his second NFR.

DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH HORSES BEFORE YOU BEGAN RIDING BRONCS AT AGE 17?

I spent six years in Alaska when I was little, then we moved to Texas. We went to the Mesquite [Championship] Rodeo, and I took an interest in horses. I started riding a little bit here and there, and then we moved to Arizona and I started taking lessons in mounted shooting. From the time I was 8 until I was 18, I was around horses almost every day. I got a mare and had her from the time I was 13 until my freshman year at college. But then rodeo really took off, and it wasn’t fair for me to keep her when I wasn’t riding her. So I sold her and have been riding bucking horses ever since. The only thing keeping me from having horses today is my schedule—too busy. One day I definitely would love to have some horses.

IS TALENT THE MAIN REASON FOR YOUR SUCCESS? THAT WOULD BE EASY TO ASSUME BASED ON YOUR AGE AND QUICK RISE TO FAME.

From the time I started riding broncs when I was 17, I’ve put everything I had into bucking horses. Worked on it at least five days a week. I’ve looked for all the instruction I could get. That was a huge blessing, the people who have helped me.

There were a lot of times I was broke. I couldn’t win a dime. Having to call home and ask Dad for money is no fun thing. But if he hadn’t helped me stay out there, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. There were times I was ready to come home, and he said, “You’re going to stay out there and finish it.”

Knowing that feeling, that you could easily fall back into that spot, it makes you try hard.

Champion Riding WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS NOW?

I want to win a world championship. Kaycee Field [a four-time world champion bareback rider] is one of my good friends, and people say he’s one of the greatest bareback riders that ever lived. I’d definitely like to have that [description] next to my name one day. I’ve put a lot of hard work into it, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

There are tons of huge rodeos I’d like to win. I don’t want it to stop at, “He won The American.”

WHICH HORSE WAS YOUR FAVORITE BRONC LAST YEAR?

Easy—Dirty Jacket, Pete Carr’s horse. He was [PRCA’s] Bucking Horse of the Year last year. I had him in the short round in Cheyenne. Scored 91 points to win. Then I had him in the fifth round at the NFR, and that was my first go-round buckle. So I’ve got a pretty good relationship with him. He’s athletic. He’s like a spring wound up in the box; you can feel him getting tense. Then he goes out [into the arena] and just feels awesome. Kicks high. Electric. Everything you could ask for.

HOW DO YOU STAY PHYSICALLY FIT FOR BAREBACK RIDING?

My brother is a CrossFit trainer. He sends me all kinds of stuff¬ to help me stay in shape. For Christmas he sent me a kettlebell and a jump rope.

In the off-season I work out two hours a day. And my friends and I have also been playing a lot of golf. It’s fun, but the mental aspect of golf is relatable to bronc riding.

The days of being the cowboy, drinking and partying, are pretty well out the window if you want to make it in this sport. There are guys training real hard all the time.

The hardest thing is to stay in shape during the summer when you’re on the road. There isn’t a lot of time to work out, especially when you’ve been driving all night and you’re tired. But if you’ve got 10 minutes to go for a jog and break a sweat, that’s better than a 10-minute nap.

On your off days, as much as you want to sit around and relax, you work out for an hour or 45 minutes. It’s crazy what one good workout can do for your mind, especially if you’re having a bad week.

DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS BEFORE YOU RIDE?

In wintertime, I love to go for a run. If we’re at a hotel, I can go for a jog before the rodeo, just to loosen up. I’m pretty lazy once I get to the rodeo. I try to get settled down and go through the motions of getting ready [to ride].

A lot of guys get really wound up and jump around. I’ve never been one of those people. I usually try to find something to lighten the mood. I can get too wound up and tight and get in my own head. If I get too serious, I’m bound to mess up somewhere. 

WHAT’S IN YOUR EAR BUDS?

Anything. Rap. Country. Hall & Oates. The SteelDrivers. Six Market Boulevard. Texas country. I’ll listen to anything.

Does it bother you that, because of riding broncs, your right arm is larger than your left?

No. That’s a great question. First time I’ve ever been asked that! It does not bother me that one side of my body is completely disproportionate to the other. I even kinda walk at an angle.

DO YOU VIEW YOURSELF AS A ROLE MODEL?

I guess I do. It has taken me awhile to understand that people do look up to me. You were saying earlier that a kid that is 17 will be reading this and see that I’m not that much older. To see myself as a guy that people look up to is weird. I still feel like a kid.

There are a lot of kids who look up to me because I’ve had success, and humbling is the best way to put it. Bobby [Mote] and Kaycee [Feild], two of the older guys in this sport, those guys know they are role models, and they make a point of talking to kids.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR YOUNG RODEO CONTESTANTS?

I see a lot of kids that want to ride bucking horses, and then they get discouraged. It’s going to get discouraging for everyone at one point or another. I love riding bucking horses. I love rodeoing. But I think it’s almost more important to realize what a cool experience this is.

It’s also important to find those guys that are gonna drive you to be better. If you’re coming up in the sport and you have somebody that you can compete against, maybe a high school buddy, push each other. It’s a you-against-the-horse sport, but it’s so much better when you have a group of guys that are pushing each other.

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