Any doubts about whether Tim O’Connell would be ready for the dogfight that awaits the competitors at the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo were put to bed on Saturday at the RAM Great Lakes Circuit Finals Rodeo.
The three-time PRCA World Champion Bareback Rider dominated the weekend, winning two rounds outright and tying for the third go win en route to the the average title with 258.5 points on three horses.
“My goal when I go somewhere is always to win,” O’Connell said. “But my goal for the circuit finals was to get back to feeling like myself, trusting my body and my equipment so that I wouldn’t have to get on any more horses before the Finals.”
O’Connell’s regular season ended nearly two months early after he broke his tailbone in Lovington, N.M. The break sheared tendons holding bones in place, leaving him at risk for the bones to push through the large intestine, which could lead to sepsis. The only alternative was surgery to remove the tailbone which was done Aug. 24.
“I didn’t really have to do a lot (for rehab),” O’Connell said. Healing the incision was the most critical part but O’Connell was released to full workouts by six weeks post surgery and cleared to ride bucking horses again in eight weeks.
O’Connell chose not to get on practice horses before entering the circuit finals.
“I was all in at that point,” he laughed. “We decided it was better to test things out in a competitive environment.”
O’Connell admitted to some nerves on the opening night but a re-ride option on the first horse allowed him to work through it.
“My first horse was trying to fall down but then right toward the end, she got her feet under her. I was pretty tentative but I finally got my feet going right there before the whistle,” he explained.
O’Connell’s reride was Dakota’s Last Dance, leading to an 85.5 point round win that allowed him to settle in.
“I was excited to get on the next day after that.”
O’Connell scored his highest ride in round two, 87 points on Championship Rodeo’s Colorado Kool-aid.
“I felt better every ride, I was trusting my body, knowing it wasn’t going to hurt,” he said. He shared the final round win with Jess Pope with an 86-point ride earned on Three HIlls Rodeo’s Devils Advocate.
Because he didn’t meet minimum rodeo count requirements, O’Connell won’t advance to the NFR Open but was thrilled to get to compete anyway.
“I love Louisville,” he said. “We had 13,000 people (on Saturday). It’s a jam up rodeo, it’s high competition in my event with Jess (Pope), Tanner (Aus) and me plus we’ve got some great young guys coming up and the last round horses are pretty much all going to the NFR.”
“It’s a great environment,” he said, noting it’s a perfect launching pad for the Wrangler NFR set to start in just a few weeks on Dec. 2.
Other winners at the $207,405 rodeo were all-around cowboy Justin Zwiefel ($3,745 in tie down roping and steer wrestling); steer wrestler Slick Pickerill (14.4 seconds on three head); team ropers Clint Wallace/Ryan Von Ahn (17.7 on three head); saddle bronc rider Byron Gilliland (228.5 points on three head); tie-down roper Tom Crouse (25.8 seconds on three head); barrel racer BryAnna Haluptzok (46.12 seconds on three runs); breakaway roper Alli Masters (8.4 seconds on three head); and bull rider Jimy Marten (244 on three head).
Courtesy of PRCA