Rodeo: Top-ranked bareback rider visits Prescott

Bareback riders Tim, Shane O’Connell not related, but share plenty

Tim O’Connell, currently the world’s No. 1-ranked bareback rider and defending Prescott Frontier Days champ, rides for a score of 85 during the third performance of the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo on Friday, June 30. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Tim O’Connell, currently the world’s No. 1-ranked bareback rider and defending Prescott Frontier Days champ, rides for a score of 85 during the third performance of the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo on Friday, June 30. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Tim O’Connell and Shane O’Connell share the same last name, compete in the same rodeo event and travel together. But they aren’t blood-related.

The two Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback bronc riders, who have become close friends, rode at the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo’s third performance on Friday night.

Tim, currently the world’s No. 1-ranked bareback rider and defending Prescott Frontier Days champion, posted an 85 score on a National Finals Rodeo horse named Pow Wow Nation, which was good for second place. Shane stood tied for fourth overall with an 83-point ride on Pow Wow Nights.

“Obviously, I wanted to come back to defend my title, but this is just a great rodeo,” Tim said Friday. “There’s a lot of added money; there’s a lot of history here.”

Lane Corbett, Tim and Shane’s third traveling partner from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who coaches the New Mexico State University rodeo team, didn’t complete the mandatory 8-second ride (lasted 6.09 seconds on Awesome Sauce) and had a no score.

French rider Evan Jayne, ranked ninth in the world, snared a narrow overall lead in the bareback at Frontier Days with an 85.5-point ride on Smoke Jumper, a two-time NFR horse.

Tim, 25, of Zwingle, Iowa, and Shane, 21, of Rapid City, South Dakota, joined the PRCA in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

Tim’s career has taken off. In 2016, the three-time NFR qualifier, won his first world title – placing first in the NFR’s average standings and first in the world standings. The PRCA reported that Tim “set a bareback riding record and claimed the biggest single-season total in any event with $347,272 earned.” To put it in some perspective, he won $195,000 in one day at the 2016 NFR.

This year, Tim has continued his torrid pace, as he’s held on to his top ranking. He’s already won nine buckles entering the annual “Cowboy Christmas” period of multiple summer rodeos bunched together in late June and July.

“It’s just been a blessed year,” Tim said. “Obviously, coming off my first world title I wanted to come back right away and show why. I wanted to make sure I came out just as strong and dedicated to win another one.”

Tim’s posted victories at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show (Fort Worth, Texas); Rodeo Corpus Christi (Texas); Rodeo of the Ozarks (Springdale, Arkansas); Old Fort Days Rodeo (Fort Smith, Arkansas); U.S. Navy Seal Danny Dietz Ultimate Challenge (Rosenberg, Texas); Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo (Garden City, Kansas); Gladewater Roundup Rodeo (Texas); Jackson County Pro Rodeo (Bellevue, Iowa) and Minnesota Horse Exposition Rodeo (St. Paul; co-champ).

“I’ve had great draws [of horses] throughout the winter, and I’m blessed to be healthy,” Tim said. “I love what I do. When I show up to a rodeo, I really want to win.”

You won’t find Tim dwelling on his successes, though. He doesn’t keep a running tally on the buckles he’s won. Instead, he’s constantly working out and competing. The reason? He’s set a goal of capturing six world titles in his career, which would put him among the all-time bareback greats.

“Me and my wife [Sami] sat down and did a lot of praying in that month after the NFR, figuring out what my goals for rodeo are going to be now,” Tim said. “When you hit the pinnacle of your sport, it leaves you dumbfounded.”

The PRCA Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year in 2013, Tim, a 5-foot-7, 145-pounder, has proven himself a worthy recipient.

Perhaps everyone should have seen this coming. Tim was a four-time National High School Finals Rodeo qualifier (2007-10) and the Wisconsin high school bull-riding champion (2010).

Shane, meanwhile, is an up-and-comer on the pro circuit. Presently ranked 27th in the world, he joined the PRCA in 2015. Shane placed 19th in the bareback world standings in 2016.

Shane admires Tim for his tenacity. After last year’s NFR, the two agreed to become full-time traveling buddies for 2017.

“I traveled with Tim for about a week last year and we tore ’em up everywhere we went,” Shane said. “I made more money than I’ve ever made.”

So far this year, the 5-10, 165-pound Shane has won the PRCA Championship Rodeo in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was co-champion of the Red Bluff (California) Round-Up.

Like Tim, Shane is a high school rodeo champion, albeit in both bareback riding and bull riding in South Dakota. Shane also was a co-champion bareback rider at the National High School Finals Rodeo.

“I’m already way ahead of where I was last year,” Shane said. “I’m riding great, feeling even better, drawin’ good. It really couldn’t get any better right now.”

UP NEXT

The Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo’s fourth and fifth performances run today at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Rodeo Grounds.

After Saturday, there will be three more performances, including 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Monday and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on the Fourth of July.

Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or via email at dcook@prescottaz.com.