Bull riding is an explosion of vicious physicality. From the moment the gate swings open, a 1,500-pound bull comprised almost entirely of muscle and fury is unleashed, trying to buck off a determined cowboy only a fraction of its weight.
With the scent of sweat and animal feces pervading over the timeless struggle of man taming the beast, it shouldn't come as a surprise that bull riding is the rodeo event that thrives in the modern world of action sports and the ubiquitous search for any and all things "extreme." Guthrie's Lazy E Arena will celebrate bull riding Friday and Saturday with its "Bullnanza" event.
Veteran rider Mike White has watched the field grow dramatically in his 10-year career. The 1999 Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association and National Finals Rodeo world champion rider will ride in Saturday's team competition, which will be televised Sept. 7 on ESPN2.
"I can remember $10,000 purses. Now, they are around $24,000. One night, I won $80,000," White said. "(Professional bull riders) have done a great job in making the sport grow and handling the business end."
White admitted that bull riding isn't a young man's sport, with inevitable injuries forcing most riders to retire in their early 30s, if not sooner. He has no plans for retirement just yet, despite the damage he'd weathered in his career.
"I've had two broken necks, broken ribs, broken leg, two broken ankles "¦ yeah, I've had my share of injuries," he said, with a chuckle.
RETURN OF PROFESSIONAL BULL RIDING
This weekend's "Bullnanza" marks the return of professional bull riding to the Lazy E, after a four-year hiatus. Robert Simpson, Lazy E's director of events, said he looks forward to the continued growth of the "Bullnanza" brand, which also includes events in Lexington, Ky.; Wichita, Kan.; and Salt Lake City.
"'Bullnanza' is a funny cat; 1989 was its first year and they called it 'Bullmania," Simpson said. "It was a new concept. There had never been a stand-alone bull event. There were jackpots, but never a formal event with big riders and big purses."
Ever since then, the purses for bull riding have blossomed, as have the quality of bulls. White said that advanced breeding programs, like those found in the horse racing industry, have resulted in better bulls, which in turn has forced the riders to step up their training.
"There are guys fresh out of high school who can really ride. It used to be that these kinds of kids would go out and ride anything," White said. "But with the breeding program, the bulls have gotten ranker and ranker. There are some bulls now that those young riders just can't handle."
Simpson said "Bullnanza" should draw out the young up-and-comers, the veterans and the riders in the prime of their career. Friday night is fan appreciation night, with 40 riders scheduled. Saturday will feature a brand-new event for the pro sport: a team ride in which the top 10 riders in the world will pick out a partner. Each contestant will ride two bulls, with the team with the highest total score taking home the winner-take-all purse of $50,000.
"It's a great concept, giving guys a chance to find the best partner to compete and win with," White said. "Guys are going to get bucked off " it happens to everyone " but I want a guy who will try hard every ride. Some don't have the hearts for riding. They have the talent, but tend to take the easy way out. I want someone who's going to give everything he's got every time." "Charles Martin