LAS VEGAS – Three-time world champion bareback rider Tim O’Connell scored a little redemption during the seventh round of the National Finals Rodeo.
“That’s the horse that actually threw me off in 2021, which was the first time I’d been thrown off a horse in about 88 rounds here at the National Finals Rodeo,” O’Connell said of Big Stone Rodeo’s Mayhem, a horse on which he scored 87 points Wednesday night to finish in a tie for second place with his traveling partner, Louisianan Kade Sonnier. “I knew I had my hands full, and I knew that I made an error to trust my rigging for three rounds. I even knew after Night 1 I should have scrapped it.
“But I waited until things got really bad after the eliminator pen (Sunday) to actually move forward and make a rigging swap.”
Adjusting equipment proved to be beneficial, and it finally paid off. He earned $21,296. Most importantly, his he gained needed confidence as he heads into the final three nights of the ProRodeo season.
“I’m just thankful to finally get on board in a round,” said O’Connell of Zwingle, Iowa. “I have never been shut out that long to get a paycheck, but I stayed with the same mindset that it was going to come and was able to not go off the deep end.”
Oh, there were frustrations. This is the richest rodeo in the world, with go-rounds paying nearly $100,000 for 10 straight rounds. When a competitor battles six times without placing among the leaders, emotions can boil.
“I feel like how I’ve prepared mentally and physically has shined through Rounds 4 through 7, and it finally came together,” he said. “The National Finals is tough if you don’t get hot out here right off the get-go. All I can do is just keep doing what I’ve been doing since Round 4, and that’s nod my head, be aggressive and do the right things I prepared myself to do. I’m doing everything I can do, and it finally paid off.”
The paycheck was the perfect reminder of how things can go in Las Vegas, and it helped him celebrate the birthday of his wife, Sami.
“I really tried to get her to the South Point,” he said of the casino on the south side of Las Vegas Boulevard that hosts the nightly go-round buckle presentation.
In fact, that’s the person he leans on most when things aren’t going right. During the regular season, it’s a phone call or a quick trip home. At the NFR, the two communicate about everything that happens in the arena – the joys and the frustrations.
“My wife is just the strongest person I know,” O’Connell said. “I know she’s just as frustrated; I think she’s been more frustrated than me. The most important things to me are my faith and my family. Rodeo is starting to fall down the list of importance. I love rodeo. It’s what I do, but it’s not who I am anymore. I lost my identity in that at one point, and I actually despised what I was doing for a career.
“I really love doing this, and that mindset helped me find the love I had for it again. To have the opportunity to just be out here for 10 straight years and feel like I’m still one of the most dangerous bareback riders in the world is amazing.