Young family acquires 100 percent of Championship Pro Rodeo
Born through ranching and raising livestock in the American West, rodeo was founded on the skills used virtually every day on cattle operations. It took talented cowboys to corral and sometimes tame the beasts that roamed the grasslands and prairies.
More than anything, rodeo is a lifestyle that envelops passion and a drive to excel. It’s how Will and Dusta O’Connell have lived their lives. It’s how they met and how they began developing a family, and it’s what guided them into the path they’re now on as owners of Championship Pro Rodeo.
“My love for rodeo runs deeper than all the other things I’ve done,” said Will O’Connell, a cowboy raised by a rodeo family in Zwingle, Iowa, who now lives on a ranch in western Oklahoma with his bride and their infant son, Jasper. “Day-in-and-day-out care and love for livestock is what I like more than just about anything – getting to know each animal and their individual characteristics.
“Being around them each day is what drives me.”
His direction to this life has all been a bit of an interesting tale. He began working with Championship Pro Rodeo several years ago, then moved into a partnership as a co-owner with Jimmy Roth. A few weeks ago, the O’Connells acquired the remainder of the ownership stake from Roth and are building their stock production company while raising a family.
“Jasper has brought a new element into our lives,” said Dusta O’Connell, the oldest of three children born to renowned rodeo clown Ted Kimzey and Jennifer Spencer. “It’s more work with a baby, no doubt, but it’s also how we grew up. I attended my first National Finals Rodeo when I was 2 weeks old. Will’s dad, Ray, was a pickup man, so this is nothing new to us.
“I wouldn’t know any other way. Jasper is going to learn what it means to work hard and to work for your money.”
Will O’Connell grew up in the saddle alongside his father while he either played around rodeo arenas or helped with the chores. He began as a contestant, then got into the labor side of things, working with a variety of livestock producers and learning about the business of rodeo.
“I rode bulls, rode broncs, picked up and fought bulls all in the PRCA,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a pickup man, a bullfighter or a contestant, there is a point in your life when what your doing in rodeo is no longer a possibility. Being a stock contractor is a way for me to never have to leave the sport.
“I will always be able to stay involved and show the love I have for animals.”
As the daughter of an entertainer, Dusta O’Connell and her two younger brothers were part of their father’s entourage and eventually followed in his footsteps as entertainers and trick riders. Big sister still does it with Tricked Out Trickriding. In addition, she also is still a competitor; rodeo has a strong hold on her heart.
“I’ve been a barrel racer for years and roped all through college,” she said. “There’s something about how the adrenaline hits differently when you’re competing.
“I have a more unique perspective; I’m still actively competing. I want the ground to be good and want everything to be as fair as we can possibly get it. I still really enjoy getting to compete.”
The contest is a big part of the sport, and the O’Connells know that as well as anyone. Between their own years in the competition ring, their little brothers own 19 NFR qualifications, 10 Montana Silversmiths gold buckles and six NFR average championships.
Tim O’Connell is the eldest at age 31, just four years younger than his only sibling, and has nine trips to the finale in bareback riding, three world titles and three NFR average crowns. Next in line is Sage Kimzey, who, at age 28, is an eight-time qualifier in bull riding with three average titles and seven world championships. The baby of the group is Trey Kimzey, a two-time bull riding qualifier at age 24.
“With them, it’s even better for our production business,” Dusta O’Connell said. “Sage, Tim and Trey are all students of the game, and they study it inside and out. Not only do they study their riding, but they are also studying the animals. They are invaluable resources, whether we’re buying or selling or just taking care of our animals.
“We always consult our brothers. Nobody knows more of those bulls in the industry than the Kimzey boys, and Tim studies those horses like nobody else. They don’t see our animals through rose-colored glasses like we do, so we get unbiased opinions about things, and that helps us make the best decisions.”
When it comes to Championship Pro Rodeo, the O’Connells seem to be doing all the right things. Last year, they had 13 animals selected to perform at the NFR, and that number may keep growing. It’s about paying attention to detail while trying to build a dominating livestock production firm.
“A lot of people don’t, but I pack my own grain everywhere we go,” Will O’Connell said. “I want our animals eating the right things to make them perform at their best every time we buck them. My main objective is to take care of them.”
It shows in how those animals perform. Whether it’s watching saddle bronc Heaven on Earth win the fourth round of the 2022 NFR with eventual world champion Zeke Thurston or watching bareback horse Meat Cracker get the better of his brother in San Angelo, Texas, there’s pride in everything Will and Dusta O’Connell do and pride in the animals under their care.
“More than anything, the reason we got into this is because it’s Will’s dream in life,” Dusta O’Connell said. “We both grew up in rodeo and love it. It’s been our whole lives. This is a pipeline dream, and we had a chance to put it in motion, so we did.
“We believe in the small rodeos that made America, and we want to be able to keep those and add more to it while having the most elite stock all over the country. We want to have the best horses and bulls that the cowboys like to get on. We’re truly living our dreams.”