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On the Trail with Tim O’Connell
Written by: Lily Landreth< Back to Articles
The Missouri Valley College rodeo team in Marshall, Mo., claims WNFR qualifier Tim O’Connell as one of their own. The 23 year old is sitting fourth in the bareback, having reached the $100,000 mark for the first time in his rodeo career. Tim was the 2013 PRCA Rookie of the Year, but didn’t qualify for the WNFR that year, making his 2014 qualification all the sweeter.
Tim’s dream of riding bareback nearly didn’t come to realization. In high school, Tim’s original goal was to be, as his dad put it, “A Ty Murray”, and compete in all three roughstock events. He soon discovered that saddle bronc riding was too technical for his taste. He was considered small for his age, and the bareback riding left Tim flying high and doing face plants, so he zeroed in on bull riding. Tim’s hometown is Zwingle, Iowa, but he rodeoed with the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association and was their year-end bull riding champion in 2010. He also poured himself into high school wrestling and was a three time state qualifier, placing fourth in the state his senior year. But the bareback riding was ever at the back of his mind. After a bad wreck while bull riding at the NHSFR his senior year, Tim soon decided to quit riding bulls. He attended a rodeo school in Iowa that PRCA saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell helped put on. “I don’t really know to this day what made me decide to start riding bareback again,” says Tim. “I would pay thousands of dollars to go back to that day at the school and know what was going through my mind!” He rode three barebacks that day, a new enthusiasm springing up in him for the event.
Roughstock runs steady in the O’Connell family. Tim’s dad, Ray O’Connell, competed in saddle bronc riding in high school, then began working as a pickup man. By the time Tim and his older brother Will were born, Ray was working mainly for Cervi Rodeo Company and Three Hills Rodeo Company. He took his boys with him whenever their school allowed. They loved to help their dad cool his horses out after the rodeo, and at many of the high school rodeos that Ray worked, he would leave young Tim riding double with the kids in the warm up pen. When they were on deck, Tim was passed along to someone else.
Growing up in the shadow of the bucking chutes made an impression on Tim early on. “Tim enjoyed being around the livestock, and if he decided to rodeo, you could tell that roughstock was where he was leaning,” says Ray. Tim started riding sheep, then worked his way through calves, steers, and bulls before finally settling on bareback. His mom, Joann O’Connell, admits that watching Tim and his brother Will – who also rode bulls – took her out of her comfort level. “I’m their biggest fan, but I worried every time they got on,” she remembers. Joann would watch the other kids ride, but left the stands when her boys rode, listening, but not watching. Today, she’s cheering from the stands – and watching with both eyes open. “I ride that horse jump for jump with Tim.” She and Ray add, “These last few weeks, Tim has been on fire, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.” Will, who is five years older than Tim, went on to be a pickup man like his dad, and fights bulls. Ray and Will have also started Diamond R Bucking Horses together, and will be taking two of their colts to the futurity sale at the WNFR.
Full story is available in the November 1, 2014 issue.