Glen O'Neill was in the midst of the best season of his career this year. Unfortunately, he'll never find out how good the season could have been.
The 2002 World Saddle Bronc Riding Champion saw his 2004 campaign come to a heart-breaking conclusion during the semifinal round of the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge in Omaha, Neb., on Sept. 25.
O'Neill broke his left leg when he flew over the top of Three Hills Rodeo's Smokeless Big Jet. He landed awkwardly and snapped both the tibia and fibula. He underwent surgery to repair the leg. Only one pin was needed to bring the two bones back in line.
"I'd never been on that horse before, but he was the one I wanted," O'Neill told the Calgary Herald. "He usually takes a little scoot, really bobs his head and just jumps and kicks. But, on this night, he took way more rein than he usually does and kept on having big jumps, kind of bombs, really.
"I could never get back. He kept on pulling me forward and I needed more rein. He got me loose and somehow I broke my leg. I don't even know how it happened. It was kind of freaky."
The disastrous ride brought to an abrupt halt a season that had seen the Australian-raised O'Neill, who now makes his home in Didsbury, Canada, climb to the top of the Jack Daniel's World Standings with $149,000.
He'd won more during the regular season before $152,00 in 2003 and $159,000 in 2001. But he'd never won as much at fewer rodeos than he did this year. The 31-year-old cowboy ended up entering 64 rodeos this year, but turned out of 20. So, he competed in 44 rodeos, averaging nearly $3,615 per rodeo.
O'Neill said the recovery time is a "three- to five-month deal" and he doesn't expect to compete again in 2004.
The fractures are similar to the ones he suffered in his right leg during the first round of the Canadian Finals Rodeo in 1999.
"It's probably not as bad, the smaller bone broke at the ankle the first time and they had to put in a plate and some extra screws," O'Neill told the Herald.
That injury sidelined O'Neill for five months.
"I came back as soon as possible," O'Neill told the Herald, "probably too soon, but I was sick of being at home and wanted to get back at it that quick. This time I'm going to wait until I'm in better shape."
O'Neill said he might return to Australia during his convalescence.
"I haven't been home for four years and I have a brother and a cousin who are getting married. But I don't want to be on crutches when I go," O'Neill told the Herald.
O'Neill already had qualified for the Pace Classic in Dallas in November and had qualified for his 10th consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
If healthy, O'Neill would have been in position to win a second world saddle bronc riding title. Now that that's out of the picture, he'll concentrate on rehabilitating his leg and aiming for 2005.
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