By Jolee Jordan
ELLENSBURG, Wash. – Fans who follow bareback rider Tim O’Connell on social media will notice two things repeated often on his Facebook page: blessed and #faithfirst.
The words aren’t just some catchphrases but are the blueprint of how three-time PRCA World Champion Bareback Rider O’Connell views the world. That attitude has propelled the Zwingle, Iowa, cowboy back into contention for a fourth gold buckle after a season that only began for him on June 20. (Click here for more details)
The most recent step in his comeback came with a win at the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo on Sept. 2. O’Connell won the short go with an 88-point ride aboard Calgary Stampede’s Zulu Warrior to claim the two-head average with 172 points, earning $8,207.
“It was a big day,” O’Connell noted humbly. “I was super excited to have Zulu, I had seen her a lot and she is fantastic.
“She is a bit hair-triggered in there (the bucking chutes) so we took our time getting out and she really gave me the opportunity to win. I set my feet right out of there and she sent them back to me … I knew the fight was on. She set the tone and I set it back. She is a great horse.”
O’Connell began the Ellensburg journey with a third-place finish in the opening round with 84 points on Korkow Rodeo’s Redemption, a horse making her bareback riding debut.
“Usually when they switch them from one event to the other, the first trip isn’t that great,” he said, “but she couldn’t have been much sweeter. I think she’s a better bareback horse than saddle bronc.”
After a serious shoulder injury suffered during the 10th round of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo sidelined the champion for half of the 2019 season, O’Connell kept a faith-based, positive attitude toward the surgery and months of rehab required to get back to championship form. (Click here for more details)
“I enjoyed the six months off. God blessed me with the time to spend with my wife and son,” he said. “And it lit my fire to ride bucking horses again.”
Even with a setback in his recovery that required his family to move to Texas, O’Connell continued to see God’s hand in his life.
“We were blessed with the Lambert family,” he said of Cody Lambert, who qualified for the Wrangler NFR in saddle bronc riding (1981 and ’90-91) and bull riding (1985-86, ’88-89 and ’91-93).
O’Connell and his family moved to Lambert’s home in Bowie, Texas, so O’Connell could work with specialists on his shoulder. Lambert and Wrangler NFR bareback rider Tilden Hooper (2008-09, 2011, 2014, 2018), lined up practice horses from 2002 PRCA World Champion Steer Wrestler Sid Steiner for O’Connell to get on before hitting the road again.
“We were just blessed with great people who came to help me when I needed it and with nothing to gain by helping me,” O’Connell said. “I never doubted that I could make the NFR. I really don’t doubt that I can win the world again. I have a peace about it.”
O’Connell acknowledges the extreme depth of talent amongst his fellow bareback riders, who have set arena records all season.
“It’s a challenge of all challenges with this field,” he said of taking a fourth world title in 2019.
With the Ellensburg win, O’Connell is now firmly inside the top 10 of the PRCA | RAM World Standings and has, as he put it, clawed his way back into the ProRodeo Tour Standings as well, earning a spot at the ProRodeo Tour Finale in Puyallup, Wash. Sept. 5-8. He’s earned more than $80,000 since his return to the arena.
But don’t expect him to let up.
“I’m going to keep hammering away like I’m 23rd in the world,” he said. “I want to get high enough in the standings to be within the average win (at the Wrangler NFR) from the top spot.
“We only have a month left (in the regular season) and everybody is tired. I’m tired too but I had six months off, so I figure I’m not as tired as everybody else.”
Other noteworthy events at the Ellensburg Rodeo include team ropers Tanner Baldwin and Nano Garza breaking the rodeo’s record for their event when they stopped the clock in 4.1 seconds in the second round, a tenth of a second faster than the old mark.
Dirk Tavenner added his name to the record books by tying the arena record of 3.4 seconds when he won the second round of the steer wrestling.
Other winners at the $368,274 rodeo were all-around cowboy Rhen Richard, ($9,921, tie-down and team roping); steer wrestler Tanner Milan (12.4 seconds on three head); team ropers Tate Kirchenschlager and Buddy Hawkins II (15.9 seconds on three head); saddle bronc rider CoBurn Bradshaw (175.5 points on two head); tie-down roper Rhen Richard (26.4 seconds on three head); barrel racer Destri Devenport (51.67 seconds on three runs); steer roper Tuf Cooper (24.5 seconds on two head) and bull rider Jeff Askey (174 on two head).
Courtesy of PRCA