One last ride remained for Tanner Aus at the College National Finals Rodeo: The Victory Lap.
A final chance to hear the announcer call your name: “2012 College National Finals Rodeo Bareback Champion, TAAAANER AUS”. Swing up on an arena pony, doff your hat to the packed arena crowd and follow a rodeo queen and unfurled flag at a lope as cheers rain down while joy wells up in the heart.
A dream made reality.
But that’s not Tanner Aus. And that wasn’t his victory lap.
It started similarily: “2012 College National Finals Rodeo Bareback Champion, TAAAANER AUS”.
Sometime during that call, the rodeo queen took off before Tanner got both feet in the stirrups.
The little arena pony he was swinging up on bolted. Tanner’s raked its flank as both horse and rider sprinted past the girl and a whipping flag. The horse, either oblivious to the fact that a champion bareback rider sat astride—or out of sheer contempt for that fact—began to buck.
That poor pony got rode out. Stuck by a rodeo champion in a 15 second ride.
When Tanner’s boots hit the loamy arena dirt, the Casper, Wyoming crowd erupted.
“Absolutely—hilarious. And—perfect,” said Tanner’s college rodeo coach Ken Mason with a chuckle. “Only Tanner...”
It’s been a steady rise to rodeo’s elite level for Tanner Aus since he packed his rigging bag with three Minnesota state bareback titles and four National High School Rodeo Finals appearances; leaving Granite Falls to rodeo at Iowa Central Community College.
In his freshman year he qualified for the CNFR, held annually at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyoming and placed tenth. The next year he took home a third place finish. And last year, after transfering from ICCC to Ken Mason’s Missouri Valley College, he finished just two points shy of the championship and was forced to settle for Reserve Champion.
“I knew John (Aus) and knew he had a kid that was coming up in rodeo,” says Mason invoking the name of Tanner’s dad, another local rodeo legend, and intimating the small world that is rodeo. “Then I saw him ride. Super talented. And I finally got him after Iowa.”
These last two years Tanner has helped MVC and Mason continue a streak of four straight top-four finishes in the CNFR team title chase. This year, Tanner accounted for 350 of MVC’s 530 team points; helping MVC to a third place finish behind champion Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College and runner-up Sam Houston State (Texas).
Tanner began his ascension to the bareback championship at Casper on the Sunday before this past Saturday’s championship round. That morning he posted a score of 79, second best in the round. The next morning, Monday, he posted another high score of 78—again the second highest score of the round.
“Going into it I just wanted to stay positive and ride one horse at a time,” said Tanner. “After Sunday and Monday we had some time off, so I participated in all the other events they had going on there, like this softball game they had. I pretty much just relaxed all week.”
Then came Friday, the third go-round, and with it the seminal ride of the bareback championship. For the ride, Tanner drew a horse named Rumble Seat. Out of the gate, the horse started fine with Aus reclined back, his feet flicking out and raking back after the initial mark-out. Midway through the ride, though, the horse veered left and bounced off the arena fence. As the horse rebounded from the fence, Tanner spurred for a moment over the horse’s neck before getting back in rhythm to finish the ride.
After dismounting Tanner smiled as he looked up to see the highest score that would be posted in the event all week: 81.5.
“He was a strong horse,” said Tanner. “And I hit the ground smiling.”
The score won the round for Tanner and gave him a commanding 14-point lead in the average.
“When he came out of Friday with a 14-point lead going into the short-go, there was no doubt in my mind. I thought, ‘that little rascal’s going to get it’,” said Mason. “He’s been preparing for this moment his whole life.”
Nerves, though, didn’t allow Tanner quite the confidence his coach had.
“Going into the short-round, I was getting pretty worked up. Through the day I just tried to calm down. I didn’t want to choke,” said Aus.
He wouldn’t. He stayed on and logged a solid and workman like, 76.5. Immediately he knew he had it: A College National Finals Rodeo Championship.
All that was left was that last ride:
The announcer’s voice. The throngs cheering. A rodeo queen and a rank victory lap pony.
“When he got to bucking, I reached out for the saddle horn for a second, but I thought I’d probably look like a p---- if I grabbed it. So, I just rode him out. Then I hit the ground and everyone... It was... It was just crazy. That may have been the highlight of the whole thing... It was a perfect ending.”
Tanner wanted to be sure to thank his entire family for all their support of his rodeo career. Early this week he’ll be competing at the Reno Rodeo. Yet he said if he doesn’t make the short-go, in what’s billed as “The Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West,” he’ll return home to compete Saturday at Western Fest.