You are the owner of this article.
Bareback riding champion Tanner Aus sets new Tucson arena record for combined score
editor's pick top story
La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros

Bareback riding champion Tanner Aus sets new Tucson arena record for combined score

Tanner Aus celebrates with the fans after scoring a 91.50 in the bareback riding event on the final day of the 95th Annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Timber Wilson, 5, practices team roping with his friend Sunday.

JorDee Kim Nielsen gets thrown off the back of Record Rack’s Little Bill during the bull riding event Sunday. Nielsen wasn’t able to hang on for eight seconds and received no score.

After throwing off the bull rider, Pinball gets into some mischief and knocks over a barrel during Sunday’s Tucson Rodeo.

Nutrena’s Killer Bee is the type of horse that strikes fear into the hearts of grown men. Cowboys, to be exact.

But that didn’t stop 29-year-old Tanner Aus from landing the top score from atop Killer Bee in Sunday’s bareback riding finals of the 95th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.

With the ride, Aus also broke an arena record set nearly 15 years ago.

The skies were overcast for the start of the rodeo, as a sell-out crowd of more than 11,000 huddled together on the metal bleachers for the rodeo’s final day, a sea of cowboy hats and denim. The flags that lined the top of the grandstand rippled in the wind, as cowboys waiting for their events to start readied themselves by applying arm wraps, stretching and tightening the belts on their fringed chaps.

Killer Bee, the 2019 World Champion Bareback Horse of the Year, came out of the chute hot, with Aus holding tight to the rigging strapped to the horse’s withers. Aus’ spurs dug into her chestnut-brown shoulders and his turquoise chap-clad legs held tight to Killer Bee, as his body took a beating from the mighty steed who kicked and bucked for what seemed to be her life.

Several of Aus’ competitors were jumping up and down on the platform next to the chutes, cheering loudly during what was clearly a special ride. He would later say that had little to do with him and more to do with the horse’s reputation.

When the requisite eight seconds was up and Aus was safely off Killer Bee’s back and running back across the arena, the booming voice of the announcer belted out Aus’ score for the ride: 91.5.

That score, combined with his previous ride score of 87.5, landed Aus the win and set a new arena record, with a two-ride total score of 179. The previous record of 178 points was set in 2006.

Several minutes after he was announced as champion, after receiving congratulations and handshakes from the other riders, Aus still looked a bit stunned as he talked about the ride.

“It felt like a battle from start to finish. It was all I could do just to keep up with her,” Aus said of his ride, adding that he’s only been on Killer Bee one previous time. “That one, it kind of strikes a little bit of terror in your heart when you see your name next to hers. That’s the truth.”

Aus, who hails from Granite Falls, Minnesota, was competing in the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Saturday when he got the word that he’d landed Killer Bee in the draw for Sunday’s bareback riding finals.

“I couldn’t help but start thinking about it then. It’s really all that’s been on my mind,” Aus said. “I was so gosh-darned nervous last night that I couldn’t sleep.”

After that restless Saturday night, Aus made the drive back from San Antonio to Tucson with friends Layton Green, who rode in Sunday’s saddle bronc riding finals, and fellow bareback rider Ty Breuer, who competed against Aus on Sunday.

“They drove most of the way, I only put in about two hours of driving in a 12-hour drive, so I wasn’t really pulling my weight,” Aus said. “But I really appreciate these guys helping me out, because I think they knew I was pretty nervous.”

Aus finished eighth in the world for bareback riding in the 2019 season with $173,460 in winnings.

Aus, who started in rodeo at the age of 9, is headed home to see his family for a few days before heading to Arlington, Texas, for The American Rodeo. He said it’s been a few weeks since he’s seen his wife and daughter, and he’s looking forward to putting in some time with them.

“For as long as that horse has been good and a little bit scary, it’s had, in my opinion, its best trips here,” Aus said of Killer Bee. “There have been some monster scores posted here in this rodeo on that horse. If you gotta’ get on Killer Bee, the best place to do it is in Tucson.”

Aus isn’t wrong: His 91.5 score in Sunday’s ride almost matched the arena record of 93, set two years ago by Devan Reilly, atop who other than Killer Bee.

Other winners from the 2020 Tucson Rodeo include:

  • Eli Lord, from Sturgis, South Dakota, won steer wrestling with a time of 17.5 seconds for three total runs.
  • In team roping, Rhen Richard from Roosevelt, Utah, and his Canadian partner, Jeremy Buhler, were victorious with a time of 20.5 seconds for three runs.
  • Jesse Wright, from Milford, Utah, won saddle bronc riding from atop No Show Jones, with an aggregate score of 172 for his two runs. Wright’s family is the subject of a New York Times best-selling book “The Last Cowboys.”
  • In tie-down roping, Caldwell, Texas, native Westyn Hughes took the win with a time of 19.2 seconds over two runs.
  • Stevi Hillman from Weatherford, Texas, won the women’s barrel racing event, with a time of 34.7 for her two runs.
  • And in bull riding, Australian Ky Hamilton took top honors with two-ride score of 175.5.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News