2016 Rodeo Champions

2016 Bareback Riding champion Tim O’Connell

The 2016 world champion bareback rider is also the 2016 Buffalo Bill rodeo champ. Tim O’Connell rode the Beutler and Son horse NodBig.com’s Wonderland for 85 points for the win in North Platte in 2016. O’Connell, who grew up in Zwingle, Iowa, and now lives in Marshall, Mo., remembered his ride vividly. “I remember that one,” he said. “You don’t forget that one.” He had been on Wonderland before, his rookie year in San Antonio. “She bucks hard, but she doesn’t always give a guy a great shot to get out on her,” he said. “We kept everybody away from her (in the chute), and I got a clean shot on her that day.” During the ride, she was exceptional. “That’s a great bucking horse, and I was tickled to have her. I knew it was a chance to win the rodeo, but it was also a good chance to get bucked off, too.”

It’s taken a while, but he’s starting to realize the fact that he’s a world champion. “I look at this gold buckle every day,” he said. “It’s finally sinking in that I really did it.” For a while, O’Connell had to live without the buckle. “It’s the biggest let down,” he said. “They give the buckle to you and then they take it away (to engrave it).” O’Connell also won the average at the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, so he wore that buckle while the championship buckle was being engraved. “Luckily I had the average buckle,” he said. “I told them, I’ll send you that one when I get my gold buckle back. So I at least had one to wear.”

Last year was the first time O’Connell had competed in North Platte. The 2015 graduate of Missouri Valley College has been at the College National Finals the last four years, which conflicted with the Buffalo Bill Rodeo. His hometown rodeo of Bellevue, Iowa, is also on top of North Platte. But he’ll be back. “If I can, I like to go to my hometown rodeo, but the money is so good in North Platte. I”ll be back this year. It’s a great rodeo. They add a good amount of money, and it pays good to win it.”

O’Connell is married to barrel racer Sami (Ross) O’Connell.

2016 Saddle Bronc Riding champion Rusty Wright

Rodeo is a family affair for the 2016 Buffalo Bill saddle bronc riding champion Rusty Wright.

The oldest of five children of Cody and ShaRee Wright, he travels with his dad, a two-time world champion, his younger brother, Ryder, and his uncle Spencer.

It’s fun, he says. “Everybody gets along good, and it’s fun being with your family. It makes it not as hard being away from home when you’re with them.” He and Uncle Spencer do most of the overnight driving (“Spencer is a night owl,” he said), but Cody does the most driving of all. “He’s used to it, and he likes to drive.”

The two-time Wrangler National Finals qualifier rode the Beutler and Son horse Bright Lights for 88 points and the win. He knew it was a good horse. “People said he was good,” he said. “He had a really good trip that day. He wheeled out of there to the right, and was really good.”

His younger brother Ryder is a PRCA member; younger brothers Stetson and Statler have begun their rodeo careers as well, Stetson riding broncs and Statler riding steers. Their sister, Lily, rides horses, too.

2016 Bull Riding champion Bart Miller

Bart Miller gave himself a pretty nice birthday present at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo.

The Oshkosh, Neb. man won the rodeo on June 17 with his 85 point ride on Beutler and Son’s bull named Thumper.

For Miller, the North Platte show is his hometown rodeo, the closest pro rodeo to him, and he stopped by his parents’ house on the way to the rodeo. “I flew from Reno (Nev.), to Denver, and stopped at mom’s house (in Oshkosh) to catch me a nap. Mom made me homemade enchiladas,” he said. Her home cooking is good. “She makes her own salsa and cans her own jalapenos.”

When he was a little boy, his mom took him to the Buffalo Bill Rodeo. “I remember guys like Ty Murray and others riding there. I’ve wanted to win that rodeo since I was a little kid. I’m glad I finally got to do it.”

He has competed at the Wild West Arena multiple times at the pro rodeo, the Nebraska high school rodeo, and at the Nebraska State Rodeo Association events.

Getting the Buffalo Bill Rodeo buckle was big. “It means a lot to me.”

His mom, Dana, and his wife Tana and son Trigg were on hand to watch him ride. He and Tana and Trigg live in Pleasanton, Neb.

2016 Tie-Down Roping champion Marty Yates

Marty Yates made the most of his time in North Platte at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in 2016.

The Stephenville, Texas cowboy won the first round with a time of 9.0 seconds, placed second in the second round with a time of 8.3, and won the average (17.3 on two head.)

He considers North Platte the first rodeo of the summer run, “when we first leave the house for a couple of months. It was good to get started off on the right foot,” he said.

His mount was a fifteen year old gelding named Buster, who is “phenomenal. He’s been a big part of my success.” Buster, who was also ridden by Caleb Smidt last year, doesn’t like people too much. “He’s grumpy. He sticks to himself,” Yates said. Buster, who was injured in early 2017, has had some time off and should be ready for competition by this year’s rodeo.

Yates, a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier, had the best year of his career in 2016, winning over $194,000 and finishing fourth in the world. “It was a weird year,” he said. “I went into the (Wrangler National) Finals in fifteenth and came out fourth. Before that, I’d always come in the top five. Buster and me got on a lick there.”

When he’s on the road, he enjoys sweet tea, ranch-flavored sunflower seeds, and beef jerky.

And he’ll be back to North Platte in 2017. “That’s how I like to start my summer off, going to North Platte, then Pleasant Grove (Utah) and Reno (Nevada). I like to do the same thing every year, and go to the same rodeos every time, and not venture off too much.”

2016 Steer Wrestling champion Jule Hazen

Jule Hazen is a two-time Buffalo Bill Rodeo champion.

The Ashland, Kansas cowboy won the 2016 rodeo with a time of 7.4 seconds on two head. Twelve years ago, he split first place with K.C. Jones.

Last year, he won the first round with a time of 3.7, and finished second in the second round with the same time. He was quick to give credit to others for his win. “I just had two really good steers,” he said. “The one steer was tricky because he would try the hazer, but my hazer (Chad Van Campen) did a great job blocking him off and making it easy for me.” Van Campen hazed for Hazen at two of his three Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearances, and Hazen appreciates him. “With Chad over there (on the other side of the steer), there’s no room for that steer to get away. Chad never stubs his toe. Having him over there is kind of like having my binkie. He makes it real simple.”

Hazen was riding his horse Bam Bam, who finished third in the running for the 2016 AQHA’s Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year. Bam Bam, a 15-year-old black gelding, is “an old campaigner,” Hazen said. “He has a mind of his own but he can really, really run. If you have (a steer) that tries you a little bit, he can still give you a chance in the average, or to place in a round.”

The 35-year-old cowboy has been rodeoing for half of his life, and finds that having a family at home, wife Heidi, daughter Joslyn and son Mason, makes it harder to leave. But age also provides maturity: “you get used to taking the ups and downs a little better.”

2016 Team Roping champion header Adam Rose

Adam Rose teamed up with heeler Walt Woodard to win the 2016 North Platte rodeo.

The pair had a time of 6.1 seconds in the first round to win second, and repeated the same time in the second round to split first place.

The Willard, Mo. man, who raises and trains performance horses, has known Woodard for many years, roping with him the last few. Woodard, who is 60 years old, is nearly twice the age of Rose, who is 37, and that’s an advantage, Rose said. “He knows how to win,” he said of Woodard. “Mentally, he’s a competitor, and he stays competitive. He still ropes great.”

Rose rode a horse he raised and trained, a 13-year-old gelding named Alice. Alice has been “a real blessing to me and my family,” Rose said. “He has a lot of try. I can always depend on him to give it his all.” Alice is the 2015 Spin to Win Head Horse of the Year and the 2014 Bob Feist Invitational Head Horse of the Year.

Rose’s wife Lacinda is a barrel racer; their children (Rose’s step-daughters ages 15 and 13), a three-year-old son, and six-month-old daughter travel with them.

2016 Team Roping champion heeler Walt Woodard

It was déjà vu all over again for team roper Walt Woodard.

The Stephenville, Texas heeler has won the Buffalo Bill rodeo three times, the most recent in 2016, with header Adam Gray with a combined time of 12.2 seconds on two head.

Woodard is no stranger to championship rodeo. He has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeos twenty times (1976-1990, 1993, 2006-2008, 2011), and loves to rodeo. “I love it,” he said. “I absolutely love rodeo. My son told me I would do it if they gave ribbons away, and I think he’s right. I love the people that put it on, the people who go to it, the sponsors, there’s nothing about rodeo I don’t like.”

It’s the variables in rodeo and the focus that is needed that intrigue him. “I practiced this morning,” he said, “and I was awesome, I was amazing.” But the rodeo atmosphere is different, with noises and distractions. “But I go to the rodeo, and the announcer is talking, and there’s a guy yelling at me, as I back into the box, that he went to my roping school in 1979,” he joked. “And I’m grateful to all the people who went to my schools, but not right then. If you can wait six seconds, then we’ll visit,” he laughed. “And if you can’t learn to deal with (the distractions), then you’re not going to make it in professional sports.”

“I like the challenge,” he said. “I want to see if I can do the same thing in North Platte that I can do in my arena in Stephenville, Texas.” He noted professional golfer Jack Nicklaus’s “phenomenal focus. Some days I am Jack Nicklaus and other days I am Jack-in-the-box. Some days I have an ugly twin that shows up and he is not very good.”

One thing Woodard appreciates about the Buffalo Bill Rodeo is the buckle given to the winners. He’s been a PRCA member since 1970, and he appreciates winning something. “When your career is over, and the money is gone, the prizes are still there. Everyone likes a prize. When we were kids, we liked Cracker Jacks because we got prizes. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you like prizes.”

Woodard, who grew up in Stockton, Calif., raised the horse, Blueberry, he roped on in North Platte. “We got him when he was a year old, and we halter broke him. No one’s touched him except us. He’s been with us so long he thinks I’m his mother. He’s a loving, kind, gentle horse who is super-fast and very athletic. He’s a great horse.” Blueberry has kept Woodard able to rope. “I shouldn’t be able to compete with these young guys, when I’m 60 years old. These guys are in their twenties. Without a great horse, you have no chance.”

Woodard won the Buffalo Bill Rodeo in 2011 with header Charles Pogue (13.1 seconds on two head) and in 1982 with header Doyle Gellerman (13.3 seconds on two head.)

2016 Barrel Racing champion Hailey Kinsel

Hailey Kinsel made her first trip to North Platte count.

Her first time at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, the Cotulla, Texas cowgirl rounded the barrels in 17.37 seconds to win the gold buckle.

It was the second PRCA rodeo win of her career, and her first rodeo after an appearance at the 2016 College National Finals Rodeo, where she had hit a barrel in the second round. “I was a little bit upset about that,” she said, “and ready to try something else.”

In North Platte, she rode her thirteen-year-old gelding, Thunder Stones, who she calls TJ. A storm was rolling in and the rain started right after she made her run, which was appropriate for her horse. “My horse ran awesome with stormy weather, which is ironic,” because of his name, she said. “He really stretched out and ran hard. He likes the crowd, so running in the performance helped us.”

In 2016, she ran TJ at about twenty pro rodeos throughout the summer, and he did well. “He really like the big outdoor pens, so the summer is particularly fun,” she said.

Kinsel will graduate from Texas A&M in May of 2017 with a degree in ag economics, finance and real estate. She qualified for the CNFR in 2015 and 2016, and in 2015, won sixth in the
average there. In February of 2017, she won The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas.

Someday, she’d like to get her real estate license, but for now, rodeo is her desire. “I think I’ll try to see how much of a job I can make rodeo, and if it’s going well, I’ll do that.”

Her mom, Leslie, usually travels with her, while her dad Dan is at home working. But in North Platte, both parents were able to watch their daughter. They had watched her run in Casper, Wyo., at the CNFR and were able to come to North Platte. “It’s extra special when my dad gets to come, too,” Hailey said. “It was a fun, fun night.”

NEBRASKAland Days June 12-22, 2019