Jul 15, 2022
By Susan Kanode
I was in church one time when the preacher said, “There’s no good time to have a flat tire.” That’s certainly true, but there are times when it is more or less convenient than others. That statement is certainly relatable to rodeo athletes and injuries. There is just no good time for an injury, but there are times when it is better than others.
Bareback rider Jess Pope, from Waverley, Kansas, finds himself in that situation right now. His Fourth of July “Cowboy Christmas” was cut short after getting hurt on July 1, 2022, at West Jordan, Utah. The horse he was on, Cervi Championship’s Grease Monkey, fell and rolled over on top of him. His right foot was in exactly the wrong place. He tore his plantar fascia and headed home.
Jess is hoping with the help of a special brace that is being made for his foot that he can be back riding early in August. He is currently first in the world standings and has a $22,000 lead over his traveling partner Tim O’Connell. He essentially has his third Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualification in the bag and even though July is the busiest month of the year for rodeo contestants, Jess is taking it in stride.
“I’m in the best situation that I’ve ever been in since I started rodeoing,” he said. “If this had happened last year, I would have had a stroke.”
A year ago, he was 15th in the world standings the end of June and his NFR qualification would have been questionable. He had a great Cowboy Christmas and started the NFR in 11th place. That’s far from where he finished. He won his second NFR championship for the highest total score on 10 head and was the reserve world champion. In 2020, he finished the season in third place.
Jess joined the PRCA in 2018, two years after winning the National High School Finals Rodeo. He started school at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, following in O’Connell’s footsteps. It’s also the place where he met his fiancée, Sydney Odle. They got engaged at her family’s ranch in Brush, Colorado on May 28th and that’s where they will get married next May. The couple’s respect for agriculture has them investing in cattle and planning for a future in that industry.
Jess is the oldest of three boys and they are all competitive. His father is an automotive teacher at Flint Hills Technical College. His mother has competed in barrel racing and when the boys showed an interest in rodeo, the parents did everything they could to foster that.
When Jess knew that his brother, Ty, had a chance to win the championship at the College National Finals Rodeo, he did the brotherly thing and surprised Ty by showing up and cheering him on. The youngest of the trio, Judd is in high school and is planning on attending Missouri Valley College as well.
At the 2020 NFR, while doing interviews with contestants, Jess had a standout quote that became one of the media’s favorites.
“The view from the windshield is a lot bigger than the view in the rearview mirror.”
One on One with the Wrangler NFR Contestant Jess Pope
Favorite movie: Top Gun – both of them. I loved the old one until the new one came out. I think it’s the best sequence movie that I’ve ever seen.
What superpower would you like to have: Reading people’s minds.
Dogs or cats: Dogs – I wouldn’t have a cat if my life depended on it. I have about 13 dogs. They are Border Collies and Catahoula’s and are all working dogs. In the fall, we catch a lot of cattle for people around here and we use those dogs. I got my first Border Collie when I was in high school. His name is Newt, and he’ll always be special.
Favorite dessert: I would say vanilla ice cream, it’s hard to beat.
TV show you would binge watch: The Office. It’s the only TV show I’ve ever binge watched in my life.
Favorite card or board game: Cribbage. I like it for the mental math part of it. I have to know numbers and be able to add quickly, and cribbage is like that. I learned how to play at Calgary last year.
Favorite spectator sport, other than rodeo: I can’t say that I pay attention to any other sports.
If you weren’t in rodeo, what would you be doing: Day hand on a ranch somewhere,
Best childhood memory: Youth rodeoing with my little brothers. Mom and Dad hauled us to youth rodeos in Oklahoma every weekend and those are as good of memories as I could ever ask for.
Tea or coffee: I like both, depends on the time of day. In order to survive I’d have to have coffee before tea.
Favorite thing about Las Vegas: The fact that I dreamed of going there. Being able to walk down the tunnel the first time and see all the bucking horses lined up. Still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it. It’s an incredible feeling.
Music on your playlist: I don’t listen to much music. When I’m driving, I leave the radio off because it gives me time to think. This drives Tim (O’Connell) and Cole (Franks) absolutely nuts. I listen to the Rumpchat podcast when I need a giggle.
Dream bucking horse to get on: There are so many well-known horses that I would like to get on, but for sure Virgil before he retires.
What champion buckle do you wear and why: The NFR Average buckle. I was wearing the first one, then started wearing the second one because I have my name on it. The second one was more of a fight to get. Those are the second most prestigious buckles that there are, so they are really special.
What’s your strong point as a competitor: Being able to consider that I am competing against myself and the horse. Not worrying about anyone else, but just focusing on myself and the animal that I’m getting on.
If you could give advice to a young rodeo competitor, what would it be: Always stay positive, don’t be afraid to ask anybody for help and keep pushing towards your dreams.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be: Flint Hills of Kansas, it’s beef country. Until you experience it, get out in the middle of the Flint Hills, you can’t appreciate it. To me it’s the prettiest country I’ve ever been in in my life.
Most memorable rodeo win: Last year’s 10th round of the NFR – can still have the feeling and I don’t think it will ever go away.