For Bareback Rider Jesse Pope, Facing World Champs Is 'Just Another Rodeo'

© Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports Jesse Pope Bareback Riding at IFYR

Jesse Pope is learning to do his laundry, and he is also saying things like this: "I'm gonna be world champion."

At 18 years old, the bareback rider from Kansas is a sage and a kid who's just growing up.

Pope is brimming with rodeo aphorisms. He refers to the Tri-State CINCH Shoot-Out -- a competition two weeks ago in which he faced Tim O'Connell, the reigning world champion -- as "just another rodeo." When asked about the pressure he may or may not feel about going head-to-head against some of the world's top cowboys, Pope verbally shrugs: "He puts his jeans on the same way I do."

He's also in his first year at Missouri Valley College -- living away from home for the first time, figuring out how to shirk peer pressure. He says "yes, sir" and "no, sir." He's living in a dorm with the other rodeo athletes. His schedule is full of feeding horses, going to classes, and training to win rodeos with his MVC team; Pope is on scholarship for his bareback prowess.

All of the chaos, though, holds together. His disarming combination of youthfulness and wisdom is joined by a singular vision of being the best bareback rider in the world.

There's certainly reason to believe that Pope isn't overly bullish about his chances. After all, at the previously mentioned CINCH Shoot-Out in Fort Madison, Iowa, Pope took third place -- ahead of third-ranked Tanner Aus and a slew of other top riders. In July, Pope swept all three rounds at the International Youth Finals Rodeo. In 2016, he was the bareback champion in Wyoming at the National High School Rodeo.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/BYufSa0gl4j/?hl=en&taken-by=jess_pope1" hide_caption="0"]
It seems strange to say that an 18-year-old has a decorated past, but that's the case with Pope -- and in all probability, it will continue to be.

When he recounts his many victories -- and few losses -- he does so with palpable maturity. It's almost cliche, the way in which his age belies his knowledge of the sport. When he talks about riding bareback, Pope mentions the "mental" game and the need for "hard work," preparation, and communication.

He recalls a story from his junior year of high school when he was bucked off a horse. Rather than breaking down because of the bitter disappointment of the loss, Pope put it into perspective.

"I like to have a five-minute rule," he says. "You can be mad about [a mistake] five minutes after you ride, but you gotta let it go, because if you sit there and dwell on it the odds are you're gonna do it again and again and again and it's just gonna get worse instead of trying to get better."

But beyond his level-headedness, there's something else: a smoldering trace of disdain for defeat that creeps into his smooth talk from time to time. It's what the Italians would call grinta, an aggressive determination.

"I hate losing more than I like winning," he says, pausing before adding, "I guess you could say."

Later in the conversation, he says he likes the "fight," likes to get "mean."

In some ways, it's tough to tell which comes first for Pope -- the desire to win a world championship or the desire to not lose another rodeo, ever, which would mean a world championship as a consequence.

[instagram url="https://www.instagram.com/p/BIP7wLBB-lD/?hl=en&taken-by=jess_pope1" hide_caption="0"]
His mom, Jennifer, shares a story from the summer that shows Pope's grinta.

She was giving her son advice on how to handle himself, his newfound glory, and his checkbook, warning that he might not be winning as many rodeos since the competition is getting stiffer and stiffer. After all, he's no longer a boy; he's facing PRCA riders, grown men making money for their families.

Jesse's reaction?

"He was mad at me," she says, laughing. "He's proved me wrong."

It may not matter, though, which came first -- the desire to win or the aversion to defeat -- because his almost-robotic approach to training, especially mental training, seems to quell any threat of pressure or expectation. It's one thing for Pope himself to say "there's always another rodeo," but he's not the only person who believes he's got that approach.

"He treats [every rodeo] like just another rodeo," his mom says. "Whether it's a rodeo at a really small town or being at the CINCH Shoot-Out, just another rodeo... everybody has to put their pants on the morning. Everybody's there to do one thing."

When asked about the horses he rides in competition, Jesse shows his cards and how he's able to shoulder the burden of expectation.

"It's hard telling what [the horses] are gonna do," he says. "You just have to look at every horse the same. ... You're competing against yourself and the animal, not somebody else. You can't control what they're gonna do; you can only control what you're gonna do, and you can't even really control what the horse is gonna do. You have to have that mental game and go out there and before to the best of your ability and hope everything else goes right."

Pope knows he can't control anything or anybody -- the horse, other riders -- but himself.

Before each rodeo, he puts his right boot on first. Then his left. That's what he can control.

Jesse Pope may be the next big thing in bareback riding, but he may not. Either way, though, he'll be just fine.


Join The Conversation On Social


Follow us on Twitter @FloRodeo
Follow us on Instagram @FloRodeo
Follow us on Facebook

Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter to stay current on all the latest rodeo news and your favorite content from FloRodeo.

Sundell, Hughes, Tovar Seize Titles At The 2017 CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute Out

Jenny Zahn 2017 cinch boyd gaming chute out champions

The 2017 CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute Out did not disappoint even the most avid rodeo fan with it’s match ups of World Champions and young talent promising to be the next big thing. They started with a field of 64 competitors, dwindled it down to the top 6 in each event for the semi-final and then the top three faced off in a sudden death final.

Junior NFR Ups The Ante In Year Two

© Russell Peables-USA TODAY Sports FloSports: FloRodeo American Junior Rodeo Association Finals Rodeo

By Lincoln Shryack

While rodeo’s biggest stars duke it out this week at Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the future wave of cowboy and cowgirl talent will share a portion of the Las Vegas spotlight. The second annual Junior NFR will raise the bar set by last year’s inaugural rodeo, as more qualifiers, events, and competition days will make for an even grander spectacle.

Coming In Hot: CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute-Out Competitors

Sherry Cervi Sherry Cervi

By Katy Lucas

The CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute-Out promises high scores and fast times with this year’s lineup of legends and young hot-shots. Not only do you have the likes of world champions and veteran competitors like Fred Whitfield, Rich Skelton, Sherry Cervi, and Shane Proctor, but mix in cowboys that have already gotten their roll on for the 2018 rodeo season and you’ve got a deadly combination.

Junior NFR Preview: Carrying On The Family Name

Truman Magnus 11217806_1201322409880682_406897711901402697_n.jpg

By Katy Lucas

Magnus, Kelton, Goodrich, Timberman, Myers, Skelton, and Brazile.

You know the names, you remember the runs and rides under the bright lights of Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center, and you saw the pride in the gold buckles won that they still wear to this day.

CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute-Out Preview: Cast of Rodeo Legends In Las Vegas

© Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports FloSports: FloRodeo World Championship

The most glamorous and lucrative portion of the rodeo season has officially arrived now that the calendar has turned to December. For the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls, the next two weeks can make or break their 2017 campaigns, as Wrangler National Finals Rodeo awaits. But, of course, NFR isn’t the only show in town: the CINCH Boyd Gaming Chute-Out, December 7-9 in Las Vegas, will stream live on FloRodeo featuring several legends of the sport.

Wyoming Rodeo Coach Passes Away After Gunshot Wound

Wyoming Athletics atheltics.jpg

On Sunday, the University of Wyoming rodeo community lost longtime coach George Howard to a gunshot wound, according to the Converse County Sheriff's Office. Howard was 59 years old. University president Lauri Nichols released the following statement about Howard's passing:

Competitors See Big Payouts As 2017 Pro Agribition Rodeo Concludes

page_rodeo2.jpg

Champions are headed home with shiny buckles and a win at the first rodeo of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) season! Those that win big at the Canadian Western Agribition’s professional rodeo can sleep easy this winter knowing they are starting off the spring 2018 season in the driver’s seat. 

Aggregate Titles In Jeopardy After Pool B Competitors Rock Leaderboard

maxresdefault.jpg

If you were entertained by Pool A’s performance at the 2017 Pro Agribition Rodeo, you haven’t seen the half of it! Friday night meant Pool B was in town, and when the lights went out on tonight’s performance, the leaderboard had been shattered in almost every event.

More Bull Riders Make Eight On Night Two At The 2017 Pro Agribition Rodeo

page_rodeo4.jpg

Now that Pool A has completed both of their go-rounds, they'll have to sit back and watch while the Pool B competitors take their shot at the $12,300 in added prize money at the 2017 Pro Agribition Rodeo tonight.

Ky Marshall Leads Bareback Competition After Day One At 2017 Pro Agribition

Ky Marshall

Under the floodlights at the spectator-packed Brandt Centre, competitors at the 2017 Pro Agribition Rodeo showed they weren't holding anything back on the first day.