We are halfway through the rodeo season and bareback rider Tim O’Connell, our reigning world champion, is looking good for a repeat.
The 2017 season started Oct. 1, 2016. Tim, who grew up near Zwingle, Iowa, went to a few rodeos to stay sharp and get a start on 2017 before last year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) where he entered in first place.
When he nodded his head on the first of 10 bucking horses last December, he got a third-place check for $15,654. That was one of eight checks he received in the rounds. He won the NFR championship by 27 points with 842 points on his ten rides. He was the second-highest money-earner of all the NFR contestants at $195,308. Added to his regular-season earnings he finished the 2016 season with $374,272 – the most of all the world champions.
Tim’s 2016 goal of earning a gold buckle was realized. After the NFR, he and his wife Sami went back to their home in Marshall, Mo., where they did some careful planning with their finances and for their future. The Holidays passed and it was time for Tim to hit the road again.
The first big rodeo for the season traditionally has been at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January. That was also the first rodeo where they announced him as the world champion.
“I got goosebumps the first time I heard that,” he said. “That gold buckle means so much to me, but with it comes a certain responsibility. Last year I worked hard to earn the buckle. Now I need to show everyone how much it means to me in and out of the arena.”
Tim let the fans in Denver see that firsthand when he won the title there and $9,252. His next big rodeo competition happened to be another legendary stop on the rodeo trail, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo where once again he emerged as champion. This win was his second consecutive in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum where he won nearly $12,000.
The Wrangler Champions Challenge in Rapid City, S.D., and the Homestead (Florida) Championship Rodeo saw him getting checks as well. Next stop on the big winter rodeo run was the San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo. Tim competed in the first of five brackets there and was the high money winner in the bareback riding at $6,273 to move into the semi-finals. He added $4,277 and qualified for the finals in second place.
There was a dog-fight for the top spot in San Antonio that was unlike any ever seen in rodeo. The championship there is awarded to the highest money earner and the final round offers the biggest checks. First place was worth over $14,000 and second paid more than $10,000. Tyler Nelson was in the lead coming in, but Tim was hot on his heels.
San Antonio’s rodeo has a different structure than most. Fifty contestants qualify to compete in each event. They are divided into five brackets that each have three rounds. Contestants advance through the brackets based on how much money they win to one of two semifinals. Each of those has two rounds.
Again, money earned gets the top five from the two semifinals an opportunity to ride in the finals where big checks are available. Prior to that final round on Feb. 25th, Tim had won $10,550. Tyler Nelson was just $855 ahead of him.
That round of bareback riding saw incredible matchups that resulted in high scores. Tim and Tyler were the last two to ride and when they announced that Tim had scored 91 points on Calgary Stampede’s Special Delivery, everyone knew that he was going to be hard to beat. Tyler came out on Frontier Rodeo’s Full Baggage and no one was prepared for what came next. An electric and outstanding performance led to a 91.5-point score, so Tyler got the buckle, the $5,000 gas card and the $14,476 check that went with it. Tim still won a total of $21,407.
“That bareback riding was phenomenal,” O’Connell said at the time. He followed it up with, “Where else can you go and finish in second place with a 91?”
While San Antonio was going on, he also won $110,000 at RFD-TV’s The American and later went on to win $25,000 at RodeoHouston’s Super Chute Out. These two events are not sanctioned by the PRCA so the money doesn’t count in the world standings.
After RodeoHouston the next stop was the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida, and event that he won last year. High hopes turned to disappointment when he had some bad luck in the first round. While things didn’t go the way that he wanted, he still made the most of his trip.
“I got to go to Florida with my Dad, so just being there was really cool,” he said. “We went over to Cocoa Beach on my day off. Surprisingly, that was the first time that he had ever been to the ocean.”
Tim’s dad, Ray, has been a PRCA pick-up man who has worked at all the major rodeos in the PRCA. He had been places across the country that were 10-15 miles from the beach, but was always too busy working to go sightseeing.
“Since I got married and moved to Missouri, my dad and I don’t get to spend much time together,” Tim added. “This trip really meant a lot to me.”
Tim’s next stop is in Logandale, Nevada. He will miss Red Bluff, California to participate in his traveling partner, Kyle Brennecke’s wedding – because that’s what friends do, give up a rodeo to support someone else’s life-changing experience.
“I know Kyle’s only planning on getting married once,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t want to miss this one and want to be there for my friend.”
He’ll be hot on the trail and we will be checking in with him again soon.