One of the most coveted buckles to win in ProRodeo is the one handed out to Dodge City Roundup Rodeo champions each year.

Bareback rider Tilden Hooper owns one, earned earlier this decade. He’s been back many times since with hopes of earning that crowning achievement again. On Thursday night during the second performance of this year’s rodeo, he set the wheels in motion with an 87-point ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Night Fist to take the first-round lead.

"I was on that horse earlier this year and was 86 or 87 points," said Hooper, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Carthage, Texas. "That’s a really fun horse. When they jump way high in the air like that, it really gives us a chance to show off, and it’s real fun for us."

The high-leaping buckskin allowed the Texan to showcase his spur stroke in a dramatic fashion. With scoring based on a 100-point scale, Hooper knows how important it is to have a solid mount beneath him.

He’s been there many times before. In fact, Hooper is one of four men who owns a share of the world record after posting a 94-point ride on Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo’s Big Tex in 2010, the same year the animal was named Bareback Horse of the Year. Like Night Fist, Big Tex was an electric horse to be matched with but was still fairly rider-friendly.

With Thursday’s score, Hooper has secured his spot in Sunday’s championship, which will feature only the top 12 contestants from the preliminary rounds. That’s when the bareback riders will face some of the rankest bucking horses in the business in order to claim the coveted championship.

"I hope I get matched back up with Show Stomper," he said of the Frontier Rodeo horse that’s bucked several times at the NFR and is considered one of the greatest on the rodeo trail today. "I had him at Spanish Fork (Utah) the other day, and he bucked me off. I’d like to have another chance at him Sunday."

The two danced across the Roundup Arena floor 3 years ago for 87 points. Hooper, who had qualified for the short round in ninth place, finished just one point behind the 2014 Roundup winner, Richmond Champion.

"This is a great rodeo" he said. "It’s one of my favorites to come to every year, and I’ve always had good luck here."

Hooper sits 26th in the world standings with $37,527 in earnings. He needs to move up at least 11 spots on the money list if he intends to advance to the NFR for a fifth time.

"I think there’s still time, but you have to win at some of the big rodeos like this," Hooper said. "If you can’t win at these big rodeos, then I guess you shouldn’t be going to the finals anyway.

"I figure I’ve got to earn another $30,000 to $40,000 to make it, but I’m going to go after it."

Qualifying for Vegas is vital to cowboys that rodeo full time. The NFR features 10 days of action, and go-round winners will pocket more than $26,000 each night. It’s an amazing opportunity to cash in while in the Nevada desert.

"The stock and the money added at a lot of these rodeos has really increased a lot," he said. "it’s a great time for us to be rodeo cowboys. It’s fun and the best job in the world."

Dodge City Roundup Rodeo Dodge City, Kan. Aug. 2-6 Bareback riding leaders: 1. Tilden Hooper, 87 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Night Fist; 2. Tim O’Connell, 86.5; 3. Shane O’Connell, 85.5; 4. Mason Clements, 84; 5. Luke Creasy, 77; 6. Logan Corbett, 75; 7. Cody Kiser, 72; 8. Casey Colletti, 71; 9. Kaycee Feild, 70; 10. Trenten Montero, 68.

Steer wrestling: First round leaders: 1. Tom Lewis, 4.1 seconds; 2. (tie) Levi Rudd and Cody Charmasson, 4.3; 4. Jacob Talley, 4.4; 5. Richard Coats, 4.7; 6. (tie) Stockton Graves, Nick Guy and Ryle Smith, 4.8. Second round leaders:1. Ryle Smith, 3.7 seconds; 2. Tom Lewis, 3.8; 3. Kyle Whitaker, 4.1; 4. Kyle Eike, 4.3; 5. (tie) Riley Krassin and Aaron Vosler, 4.4; 7. Tristan Martin, 4.5; 8. (tie)

Blake Mindemann, Cody Doescher, J.D. Struxness, 4.6. Average leaders: 1. Tom Lewis, 7.9 seconds on two runs; 2. Ryle Smith, 8.5; 3. (tie) Nick Guy and Jacob Talley, 9.4; 5. Levi Rudd, 9.7; 5. Laine Herl, 10.1; 7. Kyle Whitaker, 10.1; 8. Tristan Martin, 10.3; 9. Riley Krassin, 10.6; 10. Richard Coats, 10.7; 11. J.D. Struxness, 10.8; 12. Cody Doescher, 11.0.

Team roping: First round leaders: 1. (tie) Marcus Theriot/Cody Doescher and Colby Lovell/Ty Arnold, 5.1 seconds; 3. Hayes Smith/Justin Davis, 5.6; 4. Brett Stuart/Wesley Moss, 6.1; 5. Jake Pancost/David Hinman,6.2; 6. Joshua Torres/Jonathan Torres, 6.4; 7. Cale Markham/Austin Rogers, 6.5; 8. Brenten Hall/Casey Stipes, 6.7. Second round leaders: 1. Andrew Ward/Reagan Ward, 4.4 seconds; 2. Paul David Tiereney/Levi Tyan, 4.5; 3. Jesse Stipes/Jake Clay, 5.1; 4. Colby Lovell/Ty Arnold, 5.4; 5. Dylan Gordon/Hunter Koch, 6.1; 6. Jake Pancost/David Hinman, 6.5; 7. Marcus Theriot/Cody Doescher, 6.7; 8. Cale Markham/Austin Rogers, 7.1. Average leaders: 1. Colby Lovell/Ty Arnold, 10.5 seconds on two runs; 2. (tie) Andrew Ward/Reagan Ward and Marcus Theriot/Cody Doescher, 11.8; 4. Jake Pancost/David Hinman, 12.7; 5. Cale Markham/Austin Rogers, 13.6; 6. Jesse Stipes/Jake Clay, 16.5; 7. Joshua Torres/Jonathan Torres, 16.5; 8. Brit Ellerman/J.D. Yates, 18.5; 9. Will Clark/Tanner Ward, 24.9; 10. Paul David Tierney/Levi Tyan, 4.5 seconds on one run; 11. Hayes Smith/Justin Davis, 5.6; 12. (tie) Brett Stuart/Wesley Moss and Dylan Gordon/Hunter Koch, 6.1.

Saddle bronc riding leaders: 1. Jacobs Crawley, 87 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Rooster; 2. Shade Etbauer, 83.5; 3. Dean Wadsworth, 82.5; 4. Wade Sundell, 81; 5. Dylan Henson, 79.5; 6. (tie) Jace Lane and Leon Fountain, 77.5; 8. Bradley Harter, 75; 9. Colt Gordon, 74.5; 10. (tie) Jake Finlay and Jake Watson, 74; 12. (tie) Weston Pierschbacher and Logan Allen, 69.

Tie-down roping: First round leaders: 1. Riley Pruitt, 8.0 seconds; 2. Scott Kormos, 9.1; 3. Jerome Schneeberger, 9.6; 4. Tuf Cooper, 9.7; 5. Stran Smith, 10.0; 6. Treg Schack, 10.3; 7. (tie) Trent Creager and Ike Fontenot, 10.5. Second round leaders: 1. Caddo Lewallen, 7.4 seconds; 2. Kelsey Garrison, 8.2; 3. Paul David Tierney, 8.9; 4. Jayce Johnson, 9.6; 5. Chase Williams, 9.9; 6. Trell Etbauer, 10.2; 7. Reno Gonzales 10.5; 8. (tie) J.D. McCuistion and Ace Slone, 10.7.Average leaders: 1. Riley Pruitt, 20.5 seconds on two runs; 2. Tuf Cooper, 21.3; 3. Trent Creager, 22.4; 4. (tie) Paul David Tierney, J.D. McCuistion and Jerome Schneeberger, 22.5; 8. (tie) Kelsey Garrison and Trell Etbauer, 23.2; 10. Cimarron Boardman, 24.0; 11. Stran Smith, 24.2; 12. Michael Otero, 29.4; 6. Russell Schilling, 47.3; 7. Scott Kormos, 9.1 seconds on one run; 8. Chase Williams, 11.9.

Barrel racing: First round leaders: 1. Dona Kay Rule, 17.35 seconds; 2. (tie) Elizabeth Broussard and Bonnie Baughman, 17.50; 4. Paige Wiseman, 17.59; 5. Sandy McElreath, 17.60; 6. Shelby Janssen, 17.65; 7. Laura Lambert, 17.66; 8. Jane Fambro, 17.76; 9. (tie) Amy Wilson and Morgan Breaux, 17.79. Second round leaders: 1. Michelle Darling, 17.16 seconds; 2. Sandy McElreath, 17.46; 3. Holly Wright, 17.48; 4. Deb Cox, 17.49; 5. (tie) Dona Kay Rule and Laura Lambert, 17.52; 7. (tie) Morgan Breaux and Paige Wiseman, 17.53; 9. Kortney Kizer, 17.55; 10. Jane Fambro, 17.56. Average leaders: 1. Dona Kay Riule, 34.87; 2. Sandy McElreath, 35.06; 3. Paige Wiseman, 35.12; 4. Bonnie Baughman, 35.16; 5. Laura Lambert, 35.18; 6. (tie) Morgan Breaux and Jane Fambro, 35.32; 8. Amy Wilson, 35.37; 9. Kortney Kizer, 35.42; 10. Kassidy Lovell, 35.57; 11. Monica McClung, 35.60; 12. (tie) Keyla Polizello and Marsha Neilson, 36.08. 

Bull riding leaders: 1. Shane Proctor, 85.5 points on Frontier Rodeo’s Footloose; 2. (tie) Joseph McConnel and Ednei Caminhas, 84.5; 4. Clayton Sellars, 82; 5. Chris Bechthold, 81.5; 6. Logan Hunter, 80.5; 7. Lon Danley, 78; 8. (tie) Fultan Rutland and Nate Perry, 77.5; 10. Markus Mariluch, 72.5; 11. Colten Jesse, 64.