By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Conner Halverson was getting ready to climb aboard his mini bull inside LandMark Implement Arena in 2015 when he realized he needed someone to pull his bull rope for him.
The 14-year-old quickly glanced around the bucking chutes and saw recently crowned two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney.
Halverson was getting ready to compete during an intermission bull riding during the Midway Auto Group PBR, and Mauney was in attendance competing at the Touring Pro Division event.
“J.B., can you pull my rope?” Halverson asked.
Sure enough, Mauney pulled the aspiring bull rider’s rope.
Halverson, to his joy, made sure to reach the 8-second mark and get a score with the help of his childhood hero on the back of the bucking chutes.
“He just jumped up there and helped me out,” Halverson recalled this week. “It was one of those deals where it is like, ‘Wow, that is J.B. Mauney.’”
Halverson would win the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association Bull Riding championship three years later as a junior at Gordon-Rushville High School. He would then win a second consecutive bull riding state title the following year.
Now the 19-year-old aspires to reach the PBR’s highest level of competition – the Unleash The Beast – in the coming weeks.
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Halverson, who also wrestled all four years of high school, is well aware that his home state is set to welcome the PBR’s premier series on May 1-2 with the Omaha Invitational at the Chi Health Center. Halverson cannot think of a better time than now to win his first career Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event.
A victory at this coming weekend’s Grand Forks Chute Out in North Dakota would help push Halverson further up the world standings and closer to his goal of riding on the Unleash The Beast in Omaha in three weeks.
Halverson has drawn Jamin (0-0) for Round 1 on Friday night (9 p.m. ET on RidePass) at the Alerus Center.
“I actually have thought about that quite a bit,” Halverson said. “I am really trying to work a little harder to get better and stay on my bulls so I can possibly make it to Omaha. That would be pretty cool to make my debut there.”
Halverson grew up in Gordon, Nebraska, which is 400 miles west of Omaha and has a population of 1,800.
It was at his hometown’s local rodeo – the Sheridan County Fair & Rodeo – where Halverson began to get the itch to become a bull rider after competing in the steer riding at 8 years old.
“It is not much of a story,” Halverson said with a laugh. “I just live in a pretty small town, and our county fair – everybody goes to it, and it is something to do over the summer. They had miniature bull riding there one year, and I remember sitting in the stands and walking down the chutes and seeing those little bulls down there. I had ridden sheep and steers before, and I really wanted to do it. So the next year they came, my parents let me enter it.
“From there on, it was just something I wanted to do.”
Halverson began to watch some bull riding instructional videos on YouTube and built himself his own drop barrel to practice on.
He eventually met former bull rider Casey Stirling at his local hometown rodeo, and Stirling gave Halverson a bull bell strap to use and helped him get on his steer. Halverson sent Stirling a thank you letter in the mail after the event, and the two began a friendship.
“I got in contact with him after that steer riding and started going to his house, and he would take me to a couple of bull ridings with him,” Halverson said. “Ever since then, I would go up to his house and get on practice bulls, and he would haul me around and help me out. He is not afraid to call me out and make me get on stuff I don’t really want to. He and Mark Ward help me out a lot. I would go down to Mark’s house quite a bit and get on bulls too. Those two people have helped me get to where I am at today.”
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Stirling will be hauling bulls this weekend to the Velocity Tour event, and Halverson will be traveling with him to North Dakota.
Halverson was still in high school in 2019 when he bought his PBR card and competed at four events. He appeared at 14 events last season as he finished up his senior year of high school, and 2021 is his first full-time run in the PBR.
He is 6-for-19 this year and is ranked 84th in the world standings. He is coming off a 14th-place finish at last weekend’s PBR Aggieland Classic and knows all it takes is one weekend to turn around his year and jump to the UTB.
“I set my goal this year to make the UTB, and I just try to not think about how I have to get on tour and rush myself and think about it too much,” Halverson said. “I don’t want to cause myself not to ride good because I am trying to tell myself I have to be on tour by this time. Instead, I am focused on showing up and focusing on staying on my bulls, and it will all play out in the end. You have to ride all your bulls. That is what I like about the Velocities. You have to ride to be up there where you want to be. You have to stay on all of them, or you aren’t going to be getting anywhere.
“That is where I am at with that. I definitely have a goal to win a Velocity event, get on tour and stay on tour soon.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andre Silva/Bull Stock Media
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