LAS VEGAS – The Stevie Nicks most folks know is best known for her provocative voice and retro sound from her 1970s and ’80s stardom.
Tim O’Connell knows a different superstar by a similar name in Macza Pro Rodeo’s Stevie Knicks, and the two matched up for the fourth time during Monday’s fifth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo.
“I was pretty excited to have her,” said O’Connell, a three-time bareback riding world champion from Zwingle, Iowa. “I’ve been 94 on Stevie Knicks. I’ve been 90 on Stevie Knicks. I’ve been 89 on Stevie Knicks. (Monday) I was 87.5.
“When I don’t score as high, it’s always on me. I made a mistake in the middle of the ride, but I’m never going to be upset with myself to be aggressive. That horse has some trick in the middle. She is so low to the ground and she’s such a piece of dynamite underneath you.”
The mistake came during his spur ride. Ideally, he’d like to put the heels of his Justin boots toward the top of the animal’s neck. The higher the feet are, the better the score. With one swipe of his left leg, his boot slid over the top, and the judges docked his ride. Still, he finished in a tie for third place and earned $14,690. He has pushed his NFR account to nearly $43,000 and is sixth in the world standings with $172,440.
“She moves her head from left to right and up and down,” he said. “She always gets my left foot to sit on top of her neck. Thank God she’s not 300 pounds stronger, because she’d probably put everybody down. I don’t know anybody that’s never spurred over her neck.
“I knew I had a great shot to go after it tonight. I’m keeping up. Five (rounds) up, five down. I’m having a lot of fun doing this, and I feel like I’m riding great. I’m having a great finals. I’m having a great time. My rig is killing it as a group, and that’s all I can ask for.”
The rig includes fellow bareback riders Jess Pope and Cole Franks. Like O’Connell, Franks has placed four out of five nights. Pope, the reigning two-time NFR average winner, is off to another hot start in Las Vegas. He has placed in all five rounds, has earned more than $100,000 and is No. 1 in the average race and No. 1 in the world standings.
O’Connell, though, is holding his own. He is third in the average. If he can hold that position, he will add a bonus of nearly $40,000 when the NFR concludes Saturday night.
“I’m going out there and doing my job every time, and I’m having a great time doing it, making money, and this is an enjoyable experience,” O’Connell said. “I’ve got five more chances to get myself exactly where I need to be.”
That’s at the top of the mountain and taking home a fourth Montana Silversmiths gold buckle.
“There’s still $150,000 up for grabs in the go-rounds. You put $150,000 on top of what I’ve already won and put the average money in there, that’s breaking record for what I’ve done in single-season earnings.
“I have no doubt in my mind that I have the abilities to go out there and win five straight rounds.”