Mother’s Day isn’t filled with flowers and candy for Tim O’Connell’s mom Joann.
Instead, it has become a tradition for them to spend time together at Three Hills Rodeo’s Spring Buck Out. The event has special meaning for them. It is where Tim got on his first bareback horse and it paved the way to his gold buckle.
Missing Helldorado Days in Las Vegas so he could go home to Iowa for the Buck Out was an easy decision. It is held at Bernard, just 11 miles from Zwingle where he grew up. It is an event where Three Hills Rodeo brings their young bucking animals and provides a place for two-legged and four-legged rodeo athletes to test their mettle.
The top five competitors over two days of riding get their Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) permit paid for by Three Hills Rodeo as part of their Free Ride program. When those five enter a rodeo produced by Three Hills, they also get their entry fees paid. Tim was one of those contestants when he started and the Morehead family happily paid for his permit.
Tim and his family have been going to the Buck Out for years. His dad, Ray, has picked up for Three Hills and spending Mother’s Day with bucking horses started when he was a little kid. When he competed at his first one, he was riding bulls. Marla Morehead suggested he should try riding a bareback horse.
“I just knew he’d make a great bareback rider,” she said. “We had known his family for years and I watched him grow up. Tim is really really smart. I explained the odds of winning a check in the bareback riding are greater than in the bull riding. We are so happy it has turned out for him.”
Tim isn’t sure why he decided to get on that first bucking horse, but it determined his fate. He didn’t last the full eight seconds but it was so much fun he was ready to get on another one.
“I don’t really know what came over me or why I decided to get on that horse,” he said. “I think it was a God thing. He told me to get on a bucking horse and I did. Over the years, I’ve always tried to get back there. It’s in my roots.”
It was just four years ago that Tim got his permit and went on to win Rookie of the Year. He has been back to the Buck Out to spend time with his mom, see the new crop of bucking horses the Moreheads have raised and help the young riders that are there.
This year started just as the past couple have with him behind the bucking chutes. They were discussing the bloodlines of the upcoming horses and there was one that Tim was particularly interested in. It was out of one of his favorite bucking horses of Three Hills, a mare named Rocky, who he had ridden at the 2014 Great Lakes Circuit Finals for 84 points. And the sire of the horse was their great stud Harry.
“I said, ‘I bet that’s going to be the ringer right there.’ And as soon as those words came out of my mouth, my next thought was that I was going to test pilot that horse.” Tim went and got his gear bag, David Morehead found the horse and held it to the end so the world champ would have plenty of time to get ready.
That ride was one of the most fun rides Tim has had all season. One of the big reasons for that is it was just for fun. Prior to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, he will get on a couple of practice horses just to “knock the rust off.” This time of year, he didn’t need to knock the rust off but felt like it was the right thing to do.
“There was no money up for grabs, no TV cameras,” he said. “It really brought me back to a sense of this is why you do this. It’s fun to set on a horse in the box for the first time. You feel them let out a breath of air and think this is alright. Then you get to take their first trip with them. It’s a really awesome experience.”
After traveling to Florida with his dad for the Ram National Circuit Finals, Tim stayed close to home for most of April. He went to Logandale, Nevada, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Corpus Christi, Texas. A win at Corpus saw him add $5,534 to his season earnings.
The first week of May, he was in Guymon, Oklahoma and then back home to Marshall, Missouri, where he and his wife, Sami, made a road trip to Iowa for the Buck Out. Then it was off to Franklin, Tennessee, and Redding California. Redding hosted a Wrangler Champions Challenge event along with their rodeo. Tim placed at both. A highlight of that weekend was having help getting off his bucking horse by his brother, Will, who was picking up at Franklin.
Along with getting on bucking horses and keeping the home fires burning, there are often sponsor obligations to take care of. One of Tim’s sponsors, Rock & Roll Cowboy, had scheduled a photoshoot in Bluffdale, Texas, right after Redding. To accommodate that, he booked a flight from Sacramento to Dallas and then home.
It was a rough weekend spent in airports. They boarded their plane in Sacramento and were all set to go when the dreaded announcement came that they had a mechanical issue. Then they cancelled the flight. Tim was in row 29 of 30 so he was nearly the last one off the plane.
When he got to the customer service counter there were nearly 150 people in the line ahead of him. The flight was scheduled at 8 a.m. and when he finally made it to the front of the line it was 2 p.m. The whole time he was thinking about his bags and if he could get them, could he get to San Francisco to get on another plane?
When he finally got some help, there was a plane headed for Dallas that was leaving right then. So he hoofed it to the gate, and was the last person on the plane. As he was boarding the plane he asked, “What about my bags?”
The flight attendant closed the door behind him and said, “Yeah, good luck.”
He got to Dallas, his bags were in San Francisco and he headed to the photo shoot. Thankfully they were providing his clothes and he didn’t need his rigging bag. When it was done, he drove his rental car back to the Dallas Fort Worth Airport to figure out which one of the six terminals his bags might be at.
He wasn’t worried about his clothes bag, those could all be replaced. But that rigging bag could have had him sweating. It contained all the tools of his trade, none of them easy to replace. The bags were waiting for him, he picked them up, turned in his rental car, got on another plane for a precious 36 hours at home.
After that 36 hours, he was loading up his RAM truck and Capri Camper for the next road trip which would take him from Marshall to Garden City, Kansas, Claremore, Okla., and Rosenberg, Texas – and the only time he would leave the ground his when he was on the back of a bucking horse.