The 2007 ProRodeo season will be devoid of one of the sport's most recognizable faces and most decorated champions. Another is on the sidelines, too, and is still wondering what, if anything, will become of his season as well.
Dan Mortensen, a six-time world champion saddle bronc rider, announced shortly after the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that he would not compete this season, citing doctor-prescribed rest to cure a sore neck and other lingering injuries.
Glen O'Neill, who won the saddle bronc riding world title in 2002 and also has a Canadian title on his list of accomplishments, won't ride this winter and, upon receiving results on a chronic right knee injury, will determine his outlook on 2007.
Collectively, the two saddle bronc riders own eight world titles, six Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Finale crystal cups and more than $4.1 million in career earnings. Rodeo fans, however, will have a while to wait before witnessing the classic spurring style that have kept both among the top riders for more than a decade.
"I felt like my body was getting beat up, and I needed a break," Mortensen said from his home in Billings, Mont. "I took quite a bit of time off last fall, and I thought I'd get healed up then. I didn't, and that made me realize that it would take more than just sitting at home for a month."
Mortensen entered the 2006 Wrangler NFR with a sore neck, and X-rays revealed a shifting of a few discs that generally heal on their own. Getting on 10 of the sport's top bucking horses in Las Vegas didn't help the mending process, either.
So Mortensen, between trips to the chiropractor and the gym, plans on taking it easy at home, working on woodworking projects and "office" activities, but still staying connected to the sport in the meantime.
"Guys stop by the house all the time," Mortensen said. "With Denver going on, a lot of the Canadian guys are stopping by on their way there. I'm going to keep in touch with everybody and keep track on the Internet and the (ProRodeo) Sports News."
One cowboy who might not be stopping at the Mortensen home is O'Neill.
The native of Australia who calls Didsbury, Alberta, home has battled a right knee injury since 2004, and cannot extend the leg without significant pain. He recently was referred to Calgary orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kelly Brett, who also serves as the sports medicine physician for the NHL's Calgary Flames.
O'Neill suffered a broken right leg at the 1999 Canadian Finals Rodeo, requiring doctors to insert a rod to assist in healing. He recovered in time to still qualify for the NFR the following year and eventually won a world title in 2002.
But prior to the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out in Las Vegas in 2004, O'Neill donned a brace for the first time and has worn it ever since. A broken lower left leg, suffered at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge in Omaha, Neb., kept O'Neill out of the 2004 Wrangler NFR.
In 2006, O'Neill certainly wasn't the same guy, especially as the season hit its stretch run. He qualified for his 11th Wrangler NFR in ninth place, then sunk to No. 15 by the time the event ended, earning just $3,359 and bowing out of competition the last two rounds due to injuries to the knee, along with ailments to a hamstring and foot.
"Ever since Omaha (in 2004), I've had lots of injuries," O'Neill said. "Whatever it is, I'm not going to go back until I'm 100 percent. I need to make sure I can get healthy before I worry about entering up. At the (Wrangler) NFR, nothing was going right. The injuries had started to affect my riding, and I just thought I was wasting my time."
At press time, O'Neill hadn't learned the results from his MRI and therefore hadn't made any final decisions on how much competing he would do in 2007. Stay tuned to future editions of the PSN and www.prorodeo.com for further updates.
Mortensen, meanwhile, proclaims he still has the desire to ride. Like O'Neill, Mortensen is in no hurry to compete until he feels completely healthy.
And believe it or not, he hasn't missed riding too much, yet.
"I'm surprised I'm not missing it more now," said Mortensen, whose six saddle bronc riding world titles has him tied with the legendary Casey Tibbs for the most in PRCA history. "Usually, if I'm home for three days, I'm ready to get out of here. I'm enjoying my time at home."
By that same token, O'Neill is enjoying his time at home with wife, Jennifer, daughter, Emily, and son, Dillon. He just doesn't prefer to play the waiting game.
"If it's nothing too serious, I'll take it as it comes," O'Neill said. "It must be something serious since it's been lingering for three years now. We'll play it by ear and see if I can get everything sorted out soon."