LAS VEGAS – There are just some people who have rodeo in their blood as if it belonged with platelets and plasma.
That’s Jacob O’Mara, a professional bull rider preparing to compete on the biggest stage of his young life when the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo kicks off its 10 championship nights at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
On the line is a $6 million purse; more importantly, the world championships are within the grasp of the 119 cowboys and cowgirls who qualified to compete in ProRodeo’s year-end finale. That’s attractive to everyone, especially for O’Mara, one of the hottest bull riders doing down the rodeo trail today.
“You’ve got to be born into it,” said O’Mara, 20, of Prairieville, La. “My dad rode bulls and my mom ran barrels. She actually won the state championship in pole bending when she was in high school.”
Now Reggie and Denise O’Mara’s baby boy is in a whale of a battle for the most coveted prize in rodeo, the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle that is awarded to the world champion.
“I feel blessed to just be fulfilling my dreams and goals from what I set when I was a kid,” Jacob O’Mara said. “They helped me a lot, just the hard work that me and my brother put in doing the basic stuff every day. They were behind me throughout my high school career.
“I think I’m representing my family well.”
The bright lights of Las Vegas is where every cowboy and cowgirl dreams of being, because that’s where big money is won and where world champions are crowned. Like high school football players who dream of playing in the NFL, only the greatest in the world play on the biggest stages. That’s where the Louisiana cowboy is already in his career.
“Going to the finals at this point in my career is just something I expect out of myself,” he said. “Growing up, doing this at a young age, being as successful as I was at a young age, I just expected it. I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but I just feel like I should be there.
“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to win the rookie title and make it to the finals in the same year when I was 18. Last year, I got knocked out at Cheyenne (Wyo.) and went home. I ended up second in the rookie standings and missed the finals. But that lit a fire under me to do even better this year.”
Mission accomplished. O’Mara finished the regular season with $94,879 and will begin opening night of the 2011 NFR No. 4 in the world standings – in rodeo, money won not only pays bills, but it also stands as championship points; the contestant in each event with the most money won at the end of the NFR will be the world champion.
“I’ve had a lot of help this year with the little things from Tony Lama and Cinch being sponsors and hooking up with the MGM Grand when I’m in Vegas,” O’Mara said. “It helps me a lot to have that that kind of support.”
Of course, he’s had plenty of backing most of his life, from his parents to his older brother, Casey, a professional rodeo announcer who used to ride bulls. Not only that, O’Mara’s traveling partners are elite bull riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association: Aaron Pass, D.J. Domangue and Bryan Richardson – Domangue and Richardson have been to the NFR three times each.
“My brother kind of got things rolling for us, because my dad didn’t want him to ride bulls, but my brother talked him into it when he was 13,” O’Mara said. “I was just little then, so they started me riding sheep. I didn’t want to do that, because I wanted to get on calves. That opened the door for me.
“Everybody in my family rodeoed. My brother, from the time I could walk, he started bucking me on his back. We had a trampoline in our yard, and we’d spend ours out there in the back on a (bull riding) barrel and on the trampoline. We were doing everything we could to make ourselves better at it.”
It’s worked so far. The ultimate goal is the world championship, but O’Mara is realistic enough he’s in an uphill battle. Even with his tremendous year, he trails world standings leader Shane Proctor by $76,879. O’Mara’s a lot closer to No. 3 bull rider Wesley Silcox and No. 2 J.W. Harris, but those two cowboys account for the last four gold buckles – Silcox won the title in 2007, and Harris is the three-time reigning world champion.
“Some people think it’s just a phase, like you go through when you’re a kid,” O’Mara said. “I think 90 percent of the people that start out riding bulls end up falling in love with it.
“The only thing I’ve ever known was being cowboy. That’s pretty much what I wanted to do from the start.”