WILLMAR, Minn. (WCCO) — When you think about rodeo, you probably think Wyoming, Montana, Colorado or Texas. But this December, at the National Finals in Las Vegas, there’s a Minnesotan with a real chance to win it all.
“This is my spur board. This is basically where you work on your fundamentals and your muscle memory and things like that,” Tanner Aus said.
If you think the life of a rodeo cowboy is as glamorous as they make it seem in the country songs, you should hang out with Tanner Aus in his garage.
“It’s mostly just a glorified sawhorse,” Aus said. “I worked a little bit on getting the curvature of the neck, see this kind of resembles the horse’s shoulders, then it thins out toward the neck.”
This is where the real work is done.
“A gentleman by the name of Link Weaver makes this particular bucking machine, and it’s not like a mechanical bull you’d see in a bar, it’s a little more specific to horse riding,” Aus said.
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And it’s here, in Aus’ garage, that he’s transformed himself into one of the top rodeo cowboys in the world, and perhaps one of the most unlikely.
“Some horses are really strong, and you wanna ride ’em a little bit closer,” Aus said. “And some horses are really nice. Like, we call them hoppers. So you try to get a little more exposure. The more distance that you can create between your feet and the horse, the more points you can be.”
Aus is a bareback rider. While bullriding typically gets the headlines, bareback riding is actually the most dangerous, with the most injuries.
“I had hip surgery, I’ve had a knee surgery, a fractured wrist,” Aus said. “A few concussions, which are probably the scariest thing as far as I’m concerned, but it’s something about it that draws you back.”
Aus grew up near Granite Falls. His dad was a bareback rider, and when he retired in 1998, Tanner started the next year, at age 9. His first rodeo was in Benson, Minnesota.
“Got launched pretty far in the air, but I kind of fell in love with it right then,” Aus said.
He’s now 27 and on the Professional Rodeo Circuit, where this past season, he finished #2 in the world in the regular season standings heading into the national finals in December.
Not bad for the boy from Minnesota — not exactly a rodeo hotbed.
“It’s less common for sure,” Aus said. “And I’ve always said that there’s a lot fewer cowboys and cowgirls from Minnesota but the ones we have are die-hard.”
He still lives in Minnesota — now just outside of Willmar — and is proud to represent his under-represented state.
And training hard in his garage to give it his best shot at bringing this state a championship.
“It’s a great sense of accomplishment to be going back to the national finals, but I have other goals in mind too, so I’m definitely gonna be swinging for the fence and hopefully shoot for that top spot,” Aus said.
This will be Tanner’s third trip to the National Finals Rodeo. He was fifth two years ago, and sixth last year.
The event runs Dec. 7 through the Dec. 16 in Las Vegas.