CODY, Wyo. – Cowboy Christmas is off and running.

It’s the richest week and a half this side of the Wrangler NFR, with rodeos across the Western United States, including one of the biggest in our backyard.

The Cody Stampede kicked off Saturday night with a bang. The bareback competition featured a rising Billings star in Justin Miller, longtime Montana favorite Jessy Davis, and the No. 1 rider in the world, Tim O’Connell.

Davis jumped into the early lead with an 81, beating everybody except O’Connell, who went 85.5 aboard Gunfire. The reigning world champ set an all-time PRCA record with $374,272 earned last season, but that’s not what drives him.

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“If you think about money too much, it really takes the fun out of the sport,” said O’Connell, who leads this year’s world standings by about $15,000. “You got to have a true passion and love for this game to do what we do and stay out here as long as we do – you know, away from your families, away from your significant others, your children.

“The money’s a driving aspect, but if you’re only here for the money, you’re here for the wrong reasons.”

The 36-year-old Davis agreed with that sentiment, saying even when confronted with the many injuries rodeo produces, he rarely regrets his career choice.

“Oh, every once in a while, but not very much,” said Davis. “No, I’ve been doing it a long time and I enjoy it. If I didn’t like it, I’d try something else. I love rodeo and I love what I’ve been doing these last 10 years, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”