John McNeely, 53, has been raising bucking horses on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana since high school.  One of his horses, Virgil, a big 13-year-old grey gelding was recently honored by his cowboy peers as the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Bareback Horse of the Year. Virgil’s bucking talents have also been recognized by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association where he is the reigning Bareback Horse of the Year – two years running.

Bucking Champion, Virgil. PC Jackie JensenMcNeely bred and raised Virgil and later sold him to the Bar C5 Rodeo Company. McNeely, a fan of the movie “Tombstone”, he named the horse Virgil after one of the Earp brothers. He also owns a horse named “Wyatt Earp” and a mare named “Big Nose Kate”.

He takes pride in raising a champion and confides that when watching one of his former horses, he never roots for the cowboys. That sits just fine with professional cowboys who voted to honor Virgil because of his consistency. A cowboy who rides through a good bucking horse can make a decent living.

Professional bareback riders, Jake Vold and Austin Foss know well the benefits of drawing a horse like Virgil. Vold scored 90.75 points on Virgil in July at the Ponoko Stampede in Alberta, Canada. That was the fourth highest bareback score of 2017. In August, Foss scored 88 on Virgil to win in Lynden, Washington.

Virgil is currently at the National Finals Rodeo. Asked about his third-round draw, bareback rider, Tim O’Connell relayed his anxieties.

“I was actually really relieved to be honest with you,” said O’Connell who placed in each of the three rounds. “You’re just sitting there anticipating the draw sheet to come out, and you’ve got things running through your head. I grabbed my cross and my wedding band. I just prayed to God to put me at ease and give me what I needed. He did exactly that. He gave me the world champion bucking horse.”

O’Connell made the best of his ride scoring 91.5 points on Virgil to win $26,231 and tie the arena record. The NRF Finals run through December 16 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Photography Courtesy; Jackie Jensen and Greg Westfall

O’Connell Wins on Virgil