“I don’t know many people do what we do – all for one.” Bobby Steiner Bobby Steiner won his gold buckle when becoming the World […]
On The Trail with Jesse Pope
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
“I try to keep things simple,” he said about riding bucking horses and life in general. “It’s only as hard as you make it, and the windshield is always bigger than the rear-view mirror. I get up and do whatever I’ve got for the day and try not to make life any more difficult than it needs to be.” Jesse looks at rodeo as a competition with himself. “What everyone else does, I can’t control, the only thing I can control is what I do on the animal I’m given.”
Jesse Pope has lived in the foothills outside Waverly, Kan., since he was four. “It’s cowboy country – it’s where I like to be,” said the 23-year-old who lives on a farm with his mom, Jennifer; dad, Bret; and two younger brothers, Ty (20) a sophomore at Missouri Valley College, and Judd (16) a sophomore at Waverly High School. “Growing up, we rode each other and bucked each other off – we just wanted to be cowboys, no other ideas in life.” Today all three are cowboys – “that’s about the only thing we are good at.”
His parents run some cows and his dad is an automotive technician and instructor at Flint Hills Technical college. “He loves it,” said Jesse. “He works with juniors and seniors and likes giving back to the industry. My younger brother, Judd, will start the program in the fall.” His mom works for the Social Security Administration in Kansas City.
Jesse started rodeo in first grade – he got on sheep, then calves, and went from there to bulls. Jesse competed in all three rough stock events in high school. “Where I started, there was an older man (George Steinberger) who had a weekly practice and put on two schools a year. He started several guys in bareback and bull riding. When I was a little kid, he always said I was going to go to school at Missouri Valley. I had no idea what that was, but it’s kind of funny how things work out.” George passed away in 2017. “I learned a lot from that guy – he taught me how to be a man, morals, and what it meant to be a Christian – he was probably one of the most perfect humans I’ve ever met.” George was right about Jesse’s future college plans. He earned a scholarship to Missouri Valley College where he settled on bareback riding. “Coach (Ken Mason) told me it was up to me to ride whatever event – so I focused on bareback – to focus in on one craft was better than trying to be great at all three.” His talent through high school in the bareback riding was evident; 2015 NLBRA World Champion Bareback Rider; 2016 National High School Champion Bareback Rider and the 2017 IFYR National Bareback Champion. “I was always the best at it.”
Ty and Judd competed right along with Jesse and the family spent many weekends hauling up and down the road. “It hasn’t always been berries and cherries, but we did it,” said Jennifer. “The handful of times we left empty handed were pretty somber rides home.” We learned from each experience, what can we work on, and what can we do better next time. They competed in the JBR-Junior Bulls & Broncs, driving down Saturday to rodeos in Oklahoma, and coming home after the rodeo was over. “We had to come home to take care of bottle calves or whatever we had to do around here.” Jennifer is used to driving – her job requires driving 77 miles from her driveway to the Federal parking lot.
The boys did the after-school program; Bret worked closer so he could pick them up and bring them home. When Jesse turned 14, he could drive with his farm permit, so he would bring his brother’s home. “We were pretty ornery and hard on each other,” said Jesse. “We were boys, and we were wild. We hunted, wrestled, and fought, but it was all in fun and we gave each other a hug after.” They hunted anything that would move – squirrels, racoons, birds. “We weren’t very successful at it, but we tried. Ty still hunts, we grew up coon hunting and that’s my favorite thing to do. I don’t have time to sit in a deer stand.” He and his brothers are as tight as can be and he has told them, “Here’s the deal, I can always beat up on you but there isn’t anyone else that can touch you.”
Jesse does a lot of day work for neighbors or at the grow yard in Marshall. “I raise Catahoula’s and Border Collies and I like to go catch wild cows for the neighbors,” he said. “You can get yourself in a bind once in a while – but you just have to do the best at that point and time.” Jesse’s entrepreneurial skills started early in life. One of his school projects for business in high school was to learn how to borrow money to start a business and how to make it work. He went to First National Bank of Kansas, Waverly and talked to the president about how to buy cows, the cost per acre to feed them and how to repay the loan. The banker Craig Meader was really impressed. As a senior, he was able to buy a neighbor’s heifers thanks to his presentation – that same banker gave Jesse a line of credit at the age of 18. He has figured out how to lease ground and run his small herd, which is up to 40 pairs.
The first time Jesse went to watch the NFR was 2014. The family made the trip to Vegas for three days. Six years later (2020), he made his first appearance at the NFR, which was held in Ft. Worth, due to Covid. “That was the hardest year of rodeo,” said Jesse. “You are competing against everybody everywhere you went because of all the Covid cancellations. You were matched up against everybody and anybody that had a card. It made it difficult – a lot harder for someone like me to get ahead in the money.” In 2021 he returned to the NFR, competing at the Thomas & Mack. Jesse won the average and took second in the world. He has had a few bumps along the way. On his race to earn Resistol Rookies of the Year, he tore his hamstring the first of August, forcing him to take some time off. His $14,000 lead over Garrett Shadbolt didn’t hold, and he missed that title by a couple hundred dollars. “It was a hard decision to make – I wanted that Rookie buckle and saddle, but it was the right decision.” He ended up hurt last year too, fracturing an outside vertebra – taking away his slot for the college finals by five points.
“I try to keep things simple,” he said about riding bucking horses and life in general. “It’s only as hard as you make it, and the windshield is always bigger than the rear-view mirror. I get up and do whatever I’ve got for the day and try not to make life any more difficult than it needs to be.” Jesse looks at rodeo as a competition with himself. “What everyone else does, I can’t control, the only thing I can control is what I do on the animal I’m given.” Jesse graduated from Missouri Valley College in 2021. “I still come and pick up at practices for Coach Mason and the kids. I get on the spur board and bucking machine as much as I can. Part of my scholarship was to be the pickup man for them.” He majored in Public Relations and minored in Business. “I learned how to smile and talk in front of the camera,” he said, admitting he could have tried harder in school. “I wanted to rodeo instead of sit in the classroom.” He learned about return on investments in his business classes, which will equip him to continue growing his herd and hopefully someday become a rancher. “I’ll see where the cards lay.”
“He’s pretty special,” said his coach, Ken Mason, from Missouri Valley College. “He’s a cowboy’s cowboy every day. Whatever he decides to do, he does. He’s mentally and physically tough.”
He has two favorite Bible verses. James 1:19 My beloved brothers, understand this everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. … “The world could learn from that. Slow to take it in and think about it.” His other one comes from Numbers 6:26-27 May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace. “There was a Bible study the Monday before the 2018 AMERICAN at the rodeo dorms. We were pulling Bible verses out of a jar. Mine was Numbers 6:26 – May the lord show you his favor and peace. I remember driving from the college rodeo in Meridian, MS. to the AMERICAN, and I had that verse sitting on my rear-view mirror. I was nervous going into the AMERICAN, and I thought of that verse. May He show you His favor and give you, His peace.”
His younger brother, Ty, is attending Missouri Valley College, being coached by Ken Mason. Ken is a great coach in each event. Coach rode bucking horses himself. He understands what we go through, his passion and knowledge for bareback riding is what we call Moval Magic. It’s pretty special and what we call the “good stuff”. I have learned so much from Coach and consider him one of my best friends. The goal is to see Ty follow his older brother to the NFR. “This is a craft you have to learn on your own, but I’d like to think I helped him out,” said Jesse. “He’s on his permit. I just won Arcadia (94th Annual Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo) and he won second there. That will forever be one of my favorite memories. In 2023, I’d like to be at the Thomas & Mack with my little brother – I think that would be stinking cool.”
“Smile all the time and be happy – life’s too short to have a stump on your shoulder.”