Professional rodeo bareback rider Tim O’Connell wants to be the best ever.
“I think I’m an adrenaline junkie,” O’Connell said on why he participates in rodeo competitions. “Every time I get on, it’s for a world title, every horse that I get on is another opportunity to get another gold buckle. My goal in rodeo is to be a six-time world champion.”
O’Connell is the defending Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Bareback Riding Champion 2017. A native Iowan, 25-year-old O’Connell’s PRCA career earnings are a reported $771,272, according to the PRCA website.
O’Connell said he’s been bareback riding since he was 18, and riding professionally since 2013. He said his whole family is involved in rodeo. O’Connell placed 2nd in Bareback Riding at the 2017 New Mexico State Fair Rodeo with earnings of $3,513.
The New Mexico State Fair Rodeo isn’t in the top 20 of rodeo prize earnings in the country, said Justin Shaw, PRCA media director. However, it is considered one of the most valuable, being one of the last three top rodeo money makers before the Sept. 30 deadline.
Tracy Renck, PRCA media coordinator, said the stakes are high, as each cowboy competing seeks to be the top 15 in their respective rodeo event — All-around, Bareback, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Roping and Bull Riding — all with the hope to make it to the $10 million Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada each December. Renck said these crucial rodeos include Puyallup, Washington, Albuquerque and Pendleton, Oregon.
Though O’Connell is the defending Bareback Riding World Champion in 2016, he said it does not automatically put him in competition at the WNFR this year. O’Connell said a PRCA competitor must prove himself all over again when the new year starts in order to qualify for this coveted event.
Scottie Knapp, a 26-year-old local PRCA bull rider competitor, was sixth in the world for bull riding in 2016. Knapp said he has been riding bulls since he was 10 years old, and professionally after age 18.
However, Knapp fell to 28th place, according to Renck, in 2017. Knapp said the drop in the rankings was due to the injuries he incurred this past year, which took him out of the race to qualify for the WNFR.
Knapp said he was thrown from a bull and was stepped on, kicked, scalped on the back of his head, and dislocated a shoulder, needing 21 staples and stitches on hand and forehead.
There is not much protection between the rider, the bull and the ground in terms of safety, according to Knapp, who said he just wears a helmet and mask.
When asked if he had a close call with his life while bull riding, Knapp said, “Not necessarily — driving is more dangerous than bull riding.”
Knapp’s total career earnings to this date are $318,293, according to the PRCA website. When asked who his chief competitors were, Knapp said, “The only competition is the bull.”
So, how does a cowboy or cowgirl get to participate as a PRCA Contestant Card Member?
According to the PRCA website, an applicant must be a PRCA permit holder, beat least 18, have at least $1,000 in PRCA-sanctioned rodeo earnings in an unlimited number of years of participation, and must submit a fee of $300.
Upon PRCA approval of permit application, to be a contestant, a potential competitor must fill out a PRCA Contestant Card and pay a fee of $500.
“You have to fill up your qualifications by earning money to get into bigger rodeos,” Knapp said.
Knapp said everything he does is worth the risk, even though he acknowledged there is a potential for injury or even death. He attributed his inspiration to mount an angry bull to one thing: “Passion...there’s not another feeling like it when you are riding one.”
Sherri Barth is a volunteer sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She contributes content for basketball, football, rugby and other sports. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SherriJBarth23.