Fatherhood is like a rodeo because….
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As a father you are willing to do everything and anything for your child to protect them and give them the best life possible, and as a rodeo athlete and competitor I am willing to do what it takes to be the very best. Being the best bareback rider and father are very important to me because I want to be the greatest I can be in both and be an excellent example for others in both worlds.
Being a great dad is not measured by championships or world titles like rodeo, but you can feel like a champion in both areas… Obviously rodeo requires grit, determination, and passion and I believe it is clear that being a dad requires love, patience, and compassion. To me all six of these traits are needed in both fatherhood and rodeo, the two intertwine more than most would expect. Being a dad is the most self fulfilling thing I have accomplished in life, I have my best memories and times with my family, but it is also not always easy. Rodeo can give you such joy and excitement, but there are plenty of times when it challenges you physically and emotionally.
~ Tim O'Connell
Tell us how you got started in rodeo.
My dad was a Pick-up Man in the rodeo world while I was growing up, so my brother and I were influenced naturally by the sport. A Pick-up Man's job is to rescue the cowboy after his eight-second ride on a bucking horse. As a young teenager, I worked my way up to getting on bulls, and then at the end of high school, I started getting on bucking horses as well. When I was a senior, I entered my first buckout, a yearly event. These “buckouts” are common ground for old pros and also young beginners. A buckout is where the new generation of horses and bulls get tested with a rider for the first time.
Bareback riding is known as one of the most physically demanding sports. The best way to put it is that it's mean and rough. It's like getting in a car wreck every time you get on, that’s the G force you feel every time you get on a bucking horse. The first one I got on chucked me over her head. I can't make this stuff up. Everyone was laughing. I was like, “You know what, I'll get on another one. If it happens like that, again, it's over. I'm done.” I rode the next one and stayed on and thought that it could have been a fluke, but it wasn’t, and then I was hooked. The coach from Iowa Central was like, how many barebacks have you been on before? I said it was my fifth, and they offered me a scholarship that day. At this time I was riding bulls and that was my primary focus, I went to the High School National Finals in the bull riding. My senior year at high school nationals I got into a nasty wreck on a bull ride. He got me down, and knocked me out, I woke up in the arena with my mom standing over me.. It put the fear of God in me.
I continued to ride bulls in college, but anytime one would act up that weird feeling would rush through me and I just had this feeling that I did not want to ride bulls anymore. I pursued my bareback riding, and it took off in college. I transferred to Missouri Valley College and continued to get mentored and pursue my calling. I then went on to win three world titles. I just knew I was always going to be involved with rodeo. I had no idea I would ever be a bareback rider, and nobody in my family even wanted to try to attempt to do this. My brother did it like two or three times and hated it. My dad said he would never have guessed I would be a bareback.
What is the technique that you must naturally have?
Balance, obviously, and you’ve got to be explosive because you have to be able to think on the back of the animal. You're going off a feeling based on a sense of something happening before it happens and understanding the horse’s energy. You can pick their timing up and what their rhythm will be. When they go, you go. You feel all this jump, kick, and momentum through your entire body, then you have to be able to reset and get back down before they hit the ground again. If timing is off even a little bit, you’ll see someone get ''rag-dolled” by 1600-pound animals that they are attached to by the end of their arm. When it's done right, it's like poetry in motion. When it's done wrong, it feels as bad as it looks.
Every horse is 100% different in demeanor. There's a horse called Virgil, and he's, like, 1700 pounds. He's been a two-time world champion. He's kind of a big baby. You have to be really gentle with him. You’ve got to pet him. His head is, I would say, the size of four footballs. It's huge! Depending on what arena he's in, he'll take his head, put it over the gate, and start looking out at the crowd. If he sees a big enough crowd and feels their energy, he turns his head in, giving you a perfect shot to get out on him. But you can feel him get big and get tense.
You know you're in for it then! He usually goes out and has his best trip on those days, and you can score in the high 90s. Some horses just want to do it and others just don’t. You can't make a horse buck. They'll just become riding horses. Some are just really nice, and they jump and kick through there. They're perfect for beginner kids. The big, strong, nasty ones know how to get people off their backs. They're just like us. That’s the beauty of them, they're bred to do this. They’re cared for better than most animals.
Tell us how you balance travel and work and stay connected with your family during these periods as your family grows.
It is difficult because I miss so much, but I know that this is how I can provide a great living for my family while living out life long dreams. My wife and I talk throughout the day on the phone and I facetime the boys every evening when I am gone. I try to drive or fly home as often as possible, even if it is just for a day or so. Sami will also come to some rodeos and bring the boys when it works out.
There was a time last year when our busiest time starts in July. It's just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! You usually get on bucking horses five days a week. We had already been on the road for over a week before we were going to Calgary in 2021, and we had to be in quarantine for a few days before the event started so we could take part in the event, then stampede itself is almost two weeks long. We had a random one-day off in the middle of our schedule before going for the rest of the 4th of July run. It would be late July before I could see my family again, and I’d never gone that long before without seeing them, so I flew home on a 6 am flight, got home at 9 am, and then flew back out that same night. I spent nine hours at my house with my family. It is way more worth it for me to see my family than it is for me to just hang out on the road. It’s costly, yes, but worth it 100%.
Stratten was born at a great time of year where I have been able to be home most of the month of May, which was a huge blessing. The nice thing about what I do is when I am home, I am home all day so I do not just get the evenings with the boys, I am able to be with them all day when I am not on the road.
What is it like being a father of two?
It certainly has its challenges, routines have changed, sleep has lessened, but our love for our boys could not be any higher. Watching Hazen become a big brother and the way he loves Stratten and cares for him is such a cool thing to see as a dad. Each day we are getting our routines down more. It is funny because to me I don’t even remember what life was like before we had Stratten.
Describe some favorite moments you have with Hazen and Stratten when you have that quality together.
Hazen and I love our afternoon times together, especially when it's nice out. We will play on the swing set. We also live in our college town, and we still practice at the barn with my coach and stuff. I'll take him down to the barn, and we'll play in the arena. He'll get his trucks out and play in the dirt, and we'll just hang out down at the barn. We'll drive our Polaris Ranger around and go to the swimming pool. I just love being present with my kids. I also love snuggle time. Hazen loves snuggling more with his mom than he does me, but I will take them when he gives me some snuggles!
As silly as it sounds one of the coolest moments with Hazen and Stratten so far is when Stratten cries or gets upset Hazen runs to where he is and takes the little teddy he picked out for Stratten when he was born and brings it to him to soothe him. Hazen also loves to help or oversee the process of changing Strattens diapers. I also love cuddle time with Stratten, when he just falls asleep taking a nap on my chest.
Is there a bedtime experience that you love between Hazen and you?
Hazen likes to go to the bathroom every night after we put him into bed. I brush his teeth, and Sami puts him in bed first. It's usually about 10 minutes later that he tells us over the monitor that “I went poopoo.” When I'm home, I change the poopy diaper. As soon as I get done changing him, I say, “Hazen, are you ready to go night, night?” and he says, “Oh, Daddy goes night, night.” I say, "Daddy will go night, night." I'll get him tucked back into bed, and I get in bed with him, and he has his little Woody doll. I will say, “All right, give Wood a night, night kiss.” He gives Woody a night kiss and says, “Daddy get a kiss, “ so I kiss him. Goodnight. I say, “Goodnight, Hazy. I love you.” And he goes, “Daddy, I love you.” And then he goes, “Hashoo, hashoo hashoo…..” I sneak out after that. He saves it up so I have to come to change his poopy diaper, and I get my good night kisses after that. I love going in there, and that has somehow become our good-night kiss routine.
Are your boys going to ride bucking horses?
I hope not. If Hazen wants to, I think I could give him some pretty good pointers. It's a challenging profession. I wish for Hazen and Stratten both to be 100% all-in with whatever they do. If they're going to start something, I'm not letting them quit it. I won't make them do it again if they don't want to, but they can't quit in the middle. I want them to be passionate about what they're doing. I don't want to be like super dad and push kids to the point of breaking because that isn't right. But I want them to be passionate about what they're doing. I’ve seen some times in a rodeo when young kids get on these ponies to learn how to buck. I'm not about that. When you see a young child with under-developed bones doing something dangerous, and you realize that the dad is more into it than the kids are. I don't think it's a good way to grow our sport. That's the one thing I don't want to be; that dad who pushes someone into doing something because it was a thing that I couldn't do.
Tell us about your dad in rodeo and how your experience is different?
My dad was a Pick-up Man at the rodeos. We went to rodeos with my dad often. Pick-up Men are on the road with their horses, and they are not paid near enough to fly back and forth to see their families. As a rider, I can fly back and forth. I just have to take my gear to a rodeo. I don't have to bring the horses. There are contractors all over the United States, Canada and more their main purpose is to raise livestock and take them to the events. I probably get only 10 minutes with them. I simply put my saddle on them, be with them in the bucking chute, and ride in the arena. That's why it's so easy for me to get on a plane and fly home. I don't have to take care of animals like my dad and brother did. They had eight horses that they cared for every morning and night. These horses were their babies on the road.
Tell us about the best memories you have with your dad.
The best memories of my dad were when my dad would show up to stuff that wasn't rodeo-related. We always were there for a rodeo, but before I dove deep down into this rodeo path, I was a big-time wrestler. In high school, I loved wrestling, and it was my main passion. My dad could get off of work, go home, do all the chores at the house, and then make it back into town to watch me at a wrestling match. I would always see my dad in the stands, knowing that he was doing everything to provide for the family and care for our animals. He’d already put in a 16-hour day by that point. He would start work at six o'clock in the morning, get off at four o'clock in the afternoon, come home, do an hour and a half worth of chores and then make it to my wrestling tournaments. He would have to come back into town just to watch me compete in a six-minute match.
Having my dad in the stands for those moments was big for me. I knew what he was doing and that everything he was doing was for his boys. We didn't have a lot growing up. He had to keep everything rolling and then be involved in the activities of two boys, five years apart, doing opposite things. Him and my mom worked their butts off to provide and care for us. When he could have gone home and just sat on the couch like he was done for the day, he got up and came out to support me at a wrestling tournament or watch me at something else that I was doing. He would do the same thing for my brother. He just never stopped. I thank my dad for taking the time to be there like that. It was big for me.
How do you think Milk Street Baby can give you support in raising your littles?
When visiting your website and hearing the story about Milk Street Baby, I saw that you made beautiful baby furniture. That's what enticed me and my wife to begin with, but there is a story behind your work and it is a story that I can understand. In a sense, rodeo and Milk Street Baby go hand in hand. It's the working, middle-class citizen that loves the United States. It’s a God-fearing country. Most rodeo athletes are very hard-working, independent people. I know, Milk Street Baby, from hearing the story, is giving back to the United States, creating jobs for the people that need them the most, and giving back to the people of the United States. I feel like rodeo is a sport that still sings the national anthem and prays before the event starts. It's a lost art in today's society, but, you know, we still believe in God and country.
Can you talk about the quality of our product, Stratten’s nursery room set-up experience, and your favorite furniture pieces? Why would you recommend our furniture to others?
The Milk Street Baby products quality is second to none, it is very easy to assemble and is as solid as can be. We picked this furniture because of the great reviews, but also the unique look their furniture has compared to most others. Anyone who has seen Stratten's room instantly compliments the crib and changing table. You can tell this furniture is well thought out and constructed. No matter what style of nursery you are going for, Milk Street Baby has something that will work for you and in return you will not only have the best looking product, but you know your child is in something safe.
Sami, (Tim’s wife) is there any funny or tender moment that comes to mind about Tim being a father to Hazen and Stratten that you'd like to share?
The first time he held Hazen before I did. Tim also did skin time. I remember looking over the bed and loving my husband at this moment. I remember falling in love with him tenfold.
Tim and Hazen are hilarious. Hazen likes interactive playing. He’s lately been into this blanket with a horse head on it. Hazen thinks Tim should be the horse and chase him running around the house. They are always doing silly things together. They are freaking funny.
Tim has been just as involved this time around with Stratten, maybe even more so because I am pumping instead of breastfeeding so he gives Stratten bottles, and does one of the middle of the night feedings! Stratten seems to enjoy peeing and spraying poop on us and the other day he peed all over Tim and our bed while he was changing him. Stratten also loves to fall asleep while Tim snuggles him on the couch, he is good at cuddle times!
What would you tell an expecting new dad?
No one understands what it's like or understands instant love until you have a child. I've explained it to new dads by telling them to think of their wives. You know, like, there's this process, right? You guys meet, you go on a date, you start hanging out, you begin to like the person, and finally, you build up the courage to tell them that you love them. The whole story goes on from there. As soon as you hold your child, you feel this instant love that cannot be explained. I've never experienced instant love until I saw my child for those first few seconds after birth.
I held one baby before I had Hazen, and I was nervous. You're always anxious to hold someone else's child. By the second day of holding Hazen, I passed him around like he was a Heisman Trophy.
Changing diapers is not that bad when it's your kid. I think new dads get very nervous thinking of all the things that come with a new child; all your new responsibilities. It all just meshes, and you and your wife will work as a team.
What is your favorite Rodeo moment you want to share with our readers?
I won three world titles at The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) all with completely different scenarios. I won my first world title during my 3rd time at the NFR during the 10th round. “I get to hold the gold buckle; that's mine.” I call that moment a kind of drug because it changed everything for me. Once you get a win like that, you've got to have another one. I accomplished something that only 179 people have done in the history of our sport. In some of the pictures and the rides, you can see how overwhelmed I am with emotion.
Another moment comes to mind. I exploded on my shoulder after this one. I got into a horrible wreck in the arena. As the whistle blew, I'd won the world, and I was trying to get off, and the horse threw me overhead. It completely exploded my shoulder, and I still was a three-time World Champion after that. I remember feeling at that moment, though, how amazing it is to know that I’m in this realm with heros of mine. I’m among people whom I’ve looked up to my entire career. I remember thinking: “ I’m in it,” and there were some beautiful things simultaneously in that moment of chaos.
Then, I've tied the world record twice on two different horses. One of them took place last year in 2020, and Hazen and Sami were at the rodeo when I did it. I got off, and I looked around. I grabbed Hazen and pulled him into the arena because I was the last guy out. When they presented me with the buckle, it was a rodeo that we call the Riggin’ Rally. It’s one of a kind! Bringing together some top professional bareback riders to compete for the top prize! It’s the only bareback riding show, and it’s a standalone event. They’ve got the best guys and the best horses in the world. I just happened to draw the best horse in the world, and I was on him that day.
You could see the electricity running through my bones when I got off that horse! I was able to look over, and see Hazen jumping up and down, so I went over, and I grabbed him. I brought him into the arena with me to get the buckle and to be a part of the awards presentation. It was incredible to have my son with me and my wife in the stands in this winning moment.
~ excerpts from YOUR SON
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