LAS VEGAS – Tim O’Connell knew something about his first-round bareback horse Thursday at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“I actually won the opening round here in 2015 on that horse, and I haven’t seen him since 2015 either,” O’Connell said of J Bar J’s Dilly Bar, which he rode for 85 points to finish in a tie for third place in the first go-round. “He got hurt, changed owners, and I didn’t really know what to expect here. It’s like seeing a new horse again, so I knew I had an opportunity.
“At the end of the day, I needed to do jus the very best I can, and for me, I can’t worry about what everybody else is doing. You can get caught up in that moment and do too much and get yourself in trouble.”
There is no trouble. In fact, O’Connell added $13,327 to his pocketbook and pushed his season earnings past the $225,000 mark. He extended his world-standings lead to more than $78,000 over the No. 2 man, Minnesotan Tanner Aus.
“You want to talk about a rank start to bareback riding, that was it,” he said. “I don’t think 84 placed in the opening round, and a couple of years ago, that won the first round.”
Actually, a pair of 84s finished in a tie for sixth place, so he was almost right. But the high scores showed both the animal athletes and the caliber of bareback riders in this field of 15 competing for the world championship.
That’s another thing O’Connell understands; he won the Montana Silversmiths gold buckle a season ago, and he’d love to take a second one back to his home in Zwingle, Iowa.
“I knew I had a job to do on one particular animal, and I did everything to the best of my abilities,” said O’Connell, who attended both Iowa Central Community College and Missouri Valley College on rodeo scholarships. “I felt really solid for the first round.”
This marks his fourth straight qualification to the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale. His consistency in riding is one of the reasons he remains at the top of the game.
“Everything felt good tonight,” he said. “I felt like I was the aggressor. I felt like I had a good start. I got to see everything, and I was in great position.
“I felt like I really got ahold of him. When he finally let me turn loose and go after him, I felt like I really did the best to my abilities.”
That’s why he is a champion.