Recent YHS graduate O’Neal prepares for national bull-riding high school competition


Just over a month after graduating from Yelm High School, former student Auto O’Neal will soon depart to Rock Springs, Wyoming, to compete in the National High School Rodeo. He’ll leave for the competition on July 12, with the nine-day event itself beginning on July 14.

O’Neal qualified for the national rodeo competition, where he will bull ride, after placing third in the Washington State High School Rodeo Association (WSHSRA) championships between May 23 and May 27. 

“(WSHSRA) had a fall and a spring season. After a couple rodeos, I was down in sixth place. When it came to finals a few weeks ago, I won the average and finished in third place to qualify for nationals,” O’Neal said. “I’m feeling pretty good, confident and healthy leading up to nationals.” 

The recent YHS graduate said he first got into bull riding between four and five years ago after his friend’s dad took them to a rodeo and told them both there’d be an opportunity to get on a steer. O’Neal and his friend each seized the opportunity, and he said that’s when he fell in love with bull riding. 

“It was an amazing experience to get off that bull and know that I’ll be making it down to nationals for my first and my last time being able to do it,” O’Neal said. “I’ve been battling some injuries, and I didn’t get to rodeo for the high school rodeo association during my other years. Qualifying during my first and final year was very exciting.”

As every bull rider will say, the sport comes with bumps, bruises and sometimes major injuries. O’Neal found this out first hand during the Roy Pioneer Rodeo in 2023. 

“Last year, I broke my collarbone and lacerated my heart in the Roy Rodeo. That was a pretty big downfall,” O’Neal said. “My first ride back from Roy was my first time riding for the Washington State High School Rodeo Association, and I shattered my hand.”

He added that he’s been on 10 or so bulls since his last injury, and he’s been preparing for his upcoming journey to Wyoming by participating in different open rodeos. O’Neal said he sought to return to the sport of bull riding as quickly as possible, once healthy.

“It’s kind of the game, though. They’re not very nice animals. It’s not like going out and roping the cows,” O’Neal said. “I love doing this. I would love to make it my career and hopefully earn enough while doing it so when my older days come I don’t need to find another job to keep my lifestyle going.” 

O’Neal hopes to attend a rodeo college depending on how the national competition goes. He added if rodeo college doesn’t work out, he’ll hit the road to participate in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. 

“We’ll see where that journey takes me,” O’Neal said. “Climbing on a bull is the best drug ever. There’s nothing better than it. You feel like you’re on top of the world, and you can really never get a better feeling than it. It gives you such a good feeling, unless you’re getting hurt. But that feeling of winning and seeing that gold buckle, there’s nothing like it.”