LAS VEGAS – The sky is the limit for a bareback rider with the talent of Tim O’Connell, a three-time world champion.
He may have come close to it Saturday night.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been that high in this arena for that many seconds in a row,” O’Connell said of his 82.5-point ride on Beutler & Son Rodeo’s Ghost Town. “I wasn’t trying to do anything spectacular. I was trying to get up, get down and find my rigging handle every jump. About midway through that point, she shot forward a little bit and started pulling her head up. It really dropped my rigging down and forward.”
“I tried to chase it but put my foot on top of her neck once, and it pulled me off it. I tried to pull back underneath the next jump and put it over her neck. The fence luckily was there and slowed her up. I got back underneath things, and the whistle blew. She left me midair, and I’m blessed to not have one of her feet come down on top of me.”
The result was a sixth-place finish in the third round, worth $4,664.
“I’m glad that animal is OK; I’m glad I’m OK,” said O’Connell of Zwingle, Iowa. “We got a check out of the deal, now it’s three down and seven to go.
“I’m still hungry. I’m waiting to strike for more than one of those bottom-hole checks. I’m very grateful and thankful. This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to get things started, get things moving. This is a lot hotter finals than I’ve had in years past. Traditionally I’m a slow starter at the finals. To be able to come in three rounds in and take care of business every night is big.”
The third and eighth rounds at the NFR feature the eliminator pen, the hardest-to-ride bareback horses in ProRodeo. The powerful gray raised in Oklahoma proved to be perfect for that group of horses.
“That’s that the e pen is about, getting into a fight and never saying die,” he said. “My confidence is high. I feel great on the backs of these bucking horses. I’m being aggressive. (Traveling partner) Jess (Pope) is starting to take over in what he is planning to do when he came in here. That is exactly what our rig is about, pushing each other to be the very best.
“He is riding at a very high level; I feel like I am riding at a very high level. I just need to strike (Sunday) and get myself in the (world championship) picture. This thing isn’t over until the last horse bucks in the last round. There could be five or six guys in this game, and I’m doing exactly what I need to do to make sure I’m one of those guys and have a shot to be the No. 1 guy in the world on the last day of the year.”