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There was more than just a little bull at the South Central Fairgrounds in Chase City this past Saturday night. In fact there were a dozen or so of possibly the toughest bulls Southside VA has ever seen. But for every tough bull, there was a rider who thought he (or she) might just be tougher.
Let R Buck Bull Riding School, a new bull riding training facility located on the edge of Mecklenburg and Lunenburg Counties, presented the first East Coast Bull Riding Association (ECBRA) event in Virginia. Billed as the “Chase City Buck‘Em Series”, spectators got to experience each breath-holding second as man and beast attempted to outmaneuver the other. Staying on top of the bull for a mere eight seconds, a segment of time that was simultaneously fast and excruciatingly slow, was all that was needed to give the riders a good score and a chance to win the night’s grand prize.
The first event of the evening featured the Let R Buck students. JW Gowan, retired bull rider and instructor, has worked with his students through drills, training rides and riding preparing them for this night, and their enthusiasm was high. Even though the bulls were considered beginner bulls there was still plenty of spring in their step as they pitched one cowboy after another on the ground. Undeterred, these students proudly cowboyed up and readied for their next ride. A group of young girls excitedly watched as their favorite, Hannah Renfrow, prepared for her ride. The only young lady to ride this night may not have covered her bull for the full eight seconds, but she won the hearts of many as she gave the crowd a taste of the true grit of girl power.
The main event, featuring bulls from Broken B Ranch and Sevens Pro Bucking Bulls, attracted riders from Massachusetts to South Carolina all seeking to walk away with the $1000 grand prize. When it was all said and done, Jacob Buckler of Charlotte Court House, covered his bull for the full eight seconds and had the high score of 84.5 for the evening.
Both bull and rider are scored for their efforts. Points awarded are based on several key aspects of the ride. Judges look for constant control and rhythm in the rider in matching his movements with the bull. For points actually to be awarded, the rider must stay mounted for a minimum of 8 seconds, and he is scored only for actions during those 8 seconds. A rider is disqualified for touching the bull, the rope, or himself with his free arm. For the bull, judges look at the animal’s overall agility, power and speed; its back end kicks; and its front end drops. In general, if a bull gives a rider a very hard time, more points will be awarded. Conversely, if a rider scores sufficiently low due to poor bull performance, the judges may offer the rider the option of a re-ride.
While many sports commentators consider this to be “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports”, bull riding is the fastest growing sport worldwide. In the early 1990’s bull riding was a relatively small, obscure, extreme sport. But thanks to the efforts of folks like JW Gowen, bull riding is being taught more widely and rodeos and bull riding events are offering larger purses and increased opportunities to participate in professional events. The cowboy way of life and the adrenaline rush may be what draws the rider themselves to the sport, but for the spectator, part of the thrill comes from watching bull riders match their riding skills, intuition, and courage against animals 15 times their weight.
Not surprisingly, many riders suffer injuries; yet, this fact does not seem to deter the riders. Interviews with a number of riders prior to the event revealed this was an accepted and expected occupational hazard. Cliff “Peanut” Buckler, brother of Jacob, walked out of the arena with a limp. When asked if he was hurt, he quickly responded, “Naw, I just knocked my hip out of the joint.” The Buckler brothers competed against 10 other riders. Even though the siblings were both vying for the prize, they could be seen heads together sharing pointers and helping each other tighten the bull ropes for their respective rides. The young men have ridden horses and livestock since they were eight and compete in the Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association (SEBRA) as well as the East Coast Bull Riding Association which are stepping stones into the Professional Bull Riding (PBR) circuit. Bull riders are compelled to compete for many reasons. Even though the money that comes from winning a ride certainly helps, most of the riders interviewed spoke of the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction of a great ride as all the motivation needed.
The combination of the bulls, the riders and the adrenaline are what keep the fans coming back for more.