ARLINGTON, Texas – Thursday was a big night for bareback riders from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri.
Senior Jess Pope won the round, followed by two national champion alumni, Tim O’Connell in second and Tanner Aus, who finished tied for third. Combined, they pocketed more than $60,000 in one night of bareback riding.
“That’s huge,” said O’Connell, who rode Stace Smith Pro Rodeo’s Mr. Harry for 85.5 points to snag $20,731. “They want to talk about Tarleton (Texas) State down here, but you might want to talk about Missouri Valley to be a bareback rider.”
It was also a rank night of bareback riding, with the cowboys facing down the toughest-to-ride broncs in the game. There were six cowboys that received no scores, and a couple others that saw low scores brought on by the horses winning the battle of the “Eliminator Pen.”
“I’m not going to lie; I stopped watching it about halfway through,” O’Connell said. “That was probably the toughest E pen I’ve ever been part of. Typically, our second round of the E pen were nicer horses, but I think this one was tougher than the first one (last Saturday). Out of seven NFRs I’ve been part of, I’ve never seen anything like that.
“Those horses brought it. The E penners like this arena.”
Bareback riding is often likened to a fist fight, and the nasty horses vs. the greatest cowboys in the game this year made for a nice prize match. While Pope and Calgary’s Xplosive Skies may have been the premier bout, O’Connell’s match-up with Mr. Harry was quite the undercard.
“I had a feeling it was going to be like that,” said O’Connell, a three-time world champion from Zwingle, Iowa, now living in Marshall. “He might not have been the strongest horse in the pen, but he was hard to track, hard to ride and was constantly tail-whipping you in the eyes to keep you from seeing him because you’d constantly have to keep your eyes shut. He was like riding a jackhammer.”
He pocketed $20,231 for finishing second and pushed his NFR earnings to just less than $90,000. He remains No. 1 in the world standings with $212,184. With other cowboys having hell with their E pen rides, he also moved up two spots to fourth in the average race with 675.5 cumulative points on eight rides. That could be a healthy bonus when the NFR concludes Saturday night.
“That round was huge for me in more ways than one,” he said. “That was a big move last night. It was a big ride and it was shifting things out in the average, putting more space between me and Kaycee (Feild).”
Feild, a four-time world champion, is second in the standings, $36,000 behind O’Connell.
“It’s just a step in the right direction,” O’Connell said. “This thing is far from over.”
Thursday also was a night to celebrate Pope, who travels the rodeo trail with O’Connell. The two are like brothers, and it shows.
“For him to come to his first NFR and do this well is great,” O’Connell said. “He’s doing it quiet. He’s finally getting settled in.
“I was just super happy he got the job done.”