Jumping And Spinning, A Ballerina With Hooves


The World’s Rankest Bull: Since October of 2009, no professional bull rider has been able to stay on Bushwacker for eight seconds. At a recent P.B.R. event in Pueblo, Colorado, the riders explained why he’s so tough to ride.
By JOE SPRING
Published: July 19, 2011
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Dustin Elliott, a 145-pound professional cowboy, popped into the chute and felt energized by the lights above and the 1,600-pound bull beneath him. He wrapped a rope around his right hand, twisted right to left four times, then bounced up and down three times. The bull, meanwhile, looked casually to the left and waited.
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Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
Bushwacker stands atop the Professional Bull Riders list of the world’s rankest — or toughest to ride — bulls.
“He’s got a real cool arrogance to himself and then when the gate opens he just explodes,” Shorty Gorham, a bullfighter, said of Bushwacker, who usually bucks most pros in three seconds or so. “But leading up until then you would think he’s just some farm pet that didn’t have an ounce of buck in him.”

Since October 2009, no cowboy has ridden Bushwacker for even eight seconds, the minimum needed to earn a score, and the average is 3.01. In 2010, he jumped, kicked and spun his way to more than $335,000 from American Bucking Bull Inc., which awards prize money to bulls. With an average score of 46.01 out of 50, he stands atop the Professional Bull Riders list of the world’s rankest — or toughest to ride — bulls. But it’s not the numbers that have the cowboys tweaked.

“He’s a smart bull,” the rider Robson Palermo said. “Every time he leaves the chute he got something for you.”

With a relaxed swagger in cramped quarters, hops that should not originate from hooves, and a stable of freakish, syncopated moves that have left riders flummoxed, Bushwacker sometimes appears more ballerina than bovine. In Springfield, Mo., last year, he bucked the rookie of the year, Silvano Alves, headfirst into the dirt, swung rump over muzzle, landed on his right-front foot, and Eskimo-kissed the ground.

Hours before his encounter with Elliott in the United States Air Force Invitational in late May, as the sun rose over his pen in Pueblo, Colo., Bushwacker champed a mix of hay, grain, vitamins and minerals. His trainer, Kent Cox, laid out the feed so the bull would dine at least 12 hours before bucking.

“You can’t eat a big old bowl of spaghetti and go run a marathon,” Cox said.

On days when the bull riding starts at 2 p.m., Cox rises at 2 a.m., ignoring the headaches that have plagued him since he took a horn to the right side of the face while riding a one-ton bull in 1997. The impact shattered his cheekbone, eye socket and nasal cavity. He had five operations to install 13 plates in his head.

A year and a half later, he got back on a bull. He could still ride, but he had lost the desire. He transferred his energy into training bulls.

Cox has had great success with Bushwacker, who took home the single biggest check when he won the $250,000 A.B.B.I. Classic Championship during the Professional Bull Riders finals last October. Money also comes from breeding. Earlier this year, a collector took sperm from Bushwacker. It sells for more than $2,000 a straw. The average bull can fill 150 straws per collection.

To help owners pair potential mates, the A.B.B.I. tracks the lineage of every premier dam and sire and the bucking success of their offspring. And though Bushwacker’s line sounds as if it came from the police blotter in a seedy Southwestern drag, it is rodeo royalty. Diamond’s Ghost sired his mother, Lady Luck. Oscar’s Velvet sired his father, Reindeer Dippin’, an ornery bull who went unridden in the P.B.R. three separate years.

“When Bushwacker was a baby he was mean — he’d hook my horse,” said his co-owner Julio Moreno. “Kent’s got him to where, you know, he could eat of your hand now.”

At noon, Bushwacker lay in his pen. He is caramel, except for the tilted white H on his face, the “1 3 6” scar branded to his left rump and white horns cut off into nubs.

Cox helped two cowboys and a cowgirl herd bulls into a truck. His wife, Gina, watched from a deck behind the pens.

“I call him the bull whisperer,” she said. “He lives, breathes and eats bulls, and if you don’t moo, he doesn’t care about you.”

Gina Cox grew up in a rodeo family in Illinois. On weekends, she helps out as a P.B.R. secretary.

“I consider the finals in Las Vegas our vacation,” she said. “And that’s maybe two hours of sleep every night.”

She laughed and ran her right hand over her left forearm, a $65,000 digital prosthetic. In 2004, she lost the arm in a car wreck.

“That was the one time he never left my side — for two weeks,” she said of her husband. “And probably the only time he was away from the bulls for that long.”

As Cox helped guide four other bulls to the trailer, Bushwacker looked out through the fence.

“You know that bull loves his job,” Gina Cox said. “Because when that trailer leaves and he’s not on it, you can tell he’s upset.”

She worries about her husband. He has had at least 13 concussions and often enters the pens to train the bulls with only two blue heeler cattle dogs at his side. He has been knocked down more than once.

As Cox swung open the gate to Bushwacker’s pen, the bull stood still and twitched his right ear into a cup. Cox walked in. Bushwacker trotted out. Soon he was on the truck and off to the arena.

The haul was a short one, comparatively. Cox drives Bushwacker from his home in Dublin, Tex., to more than a dozen events around the country.

After an hour-and-a-half nap at the hotel, Cox showed up behind the Colorado State Fair Events Center at 7. Pyrotechnics went off inside. Bushwacker waited amid a sea of fencing, swinging tails and tilting horns.

Cox went inside and clanked up steps to the platform behind the chutes. Chaw dripped off a grate that creaked under the weight of paunched contractors and square-jawed cowboys.

Cox flanked the 28th and 29th bulls, steadied riders in the chute by holding their shoulders and drawled with cowboys. The gate slammed open. Clumps of dirt flew up into the scrum of hats.

Shortly after 9 p.m., after more than 40 bulls had gone out, Bushwacker ambled into the chute. Cox stood over his still flank. The opening piano from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” blared from the speakers. Elliott finished squirming and nodded vigorously. The gate opened.

Bushwacker short-hopped into the arena. Drool flew out of his mouth and whirled over Elliott’s head. Bushwacker bounded more than two feet into the air, kicked his hind legs up, and drove his front legs into the ground. Instead of waiting for his back legs to touch dirt, as most bulls do, he sprung off his front feet immediately.

This is Bushwacker’s signature move, and it is as effective in its offbeat athleticism as a point guard executing a crossover dribble to ditch a defender. Elliott came forward and lost the weight of his feet underneath him.

Possibly sensing the rider’s weight shift, Bushwacker staccato-hopped to the right. He accelerated into five successive spinning jumps. His tail whipped his own rump with emphatic snaps. Elliott flew to the right and hit the dirt. The clock showed 6.57 seconds.

Bushwacker kicked out of the arena and into the night. He stopped at the last gate and waited for the next truck. Inside, after the last ride of the night, Kent and Gina Cox walked over to Elliott.

“There’s nobody that we’d be prouder to have ride him first,” Gina said. “That’s for dang sure.”

Then Kent Cox put his arm on his wife’s back and left the arena smiling.

“This is what we work all week long to come do, and the results are here,” he said. “He did his job, and, yeah.”

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Scott Breding


During Scott Breding’s career as a professional bull rider, people have repeatedly used a biblical reference when joking about the hazards of climbing aboard 1,800-pounds of fury.
“I’ve heard many times that man should not ride animals with a cloven hoof,” smiled Breding, a five-time WNFR qualifier and current PBR competitor, from Edgar, Mont. “But I guess I’m just a thrill-seeker. I like the constant challenge of trying to ride the beast for eight seconds.”
Breding is part of a world-class triumvirate putting on a bareback bronc riding and bull riding school for the Helena Rodeo Club at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds. The classes began Friday morning and run through Sunday.
The bull riding is being instructed by Breding, while world champions Bobby Mote and Clint Corey are teaching the bareback. There are 25 students attending the bronc riding classes, and 16 with 16 cowboys learning about bull riding.
“We have students here with a wide variety of experience, from beginners to veterans,” said Mote, who has qualified for nine WNFRs. “Our main goal is for the guys to take their skills to the next level, and have fun.”
Mote, from Culver, Ore., is a three-time PRCA world bareback champion, winning titles in 2002, 2007 and 2009.
Corey, 46, qualified for the NFR 18 times in a career spanning more than 20 years. He captured the world bareback crown in 1991, and has placed runner-up four times and came in third five times.
Corey said that Mote asked him to help out after getting such a large turnout for the school.
“Twenty-five is just too many for one guy to handle,” Corey said. “I taught Bobby when he was starting out, and we used to travel together for awhile. He called and needed some help, so here I am.
“Besides, I used to rodeo here (the Last Chance Stampede), and Helena is a great place with some really fine people. And Montana has some great bareback riders.”
Corey and Mote, who has also competed at the LCS the “last couple years,” are both good friends with Boulder bareback rider Ben Wrzesinski, who was one of the organizers of the school. Breding said he was called upon by his buddy John Hanson, the Helena Rodeo Club’s president.
The three-day school focuses mostly on the basics, beginning with the “front-end and back-end,” meaning how to get on and off of the animals properly.
Many of the 41 students in attendance belong to the local high school Rodeo Club. But there are also cowboys here from Canada, Idaho, North Dakota, California, and throughout Montana.
The youngest is 13-year old bull rider Dalton Brooks of Deer Lodge, while Butte bareback rider Maclin Staman, 32, is the oldest.
Bareback riders Brady Betram and Colter Antonsen traveled from opposite ends of the compass dial to attend. Betram, 22, came from Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, while the 18-year old Antonsen drove from Ridgecrest, Calif., near the Mohave Desert.
Antonsen’s mother, Gail Klett, and Clint Corey were high school classmates in Silverdale, Wash.
One of the local area students is Cavan Wrzensinski, a sophomore at Jefferson High School.
“I just want to learn more of the basics, start riding better than I did last fall, and improve on my mistakes,” said Wrzesinski.
The 16-year old Boulder cowboy already owns a career highlight.
“At Harlowton, I rode the same horse that my dad (Ben) had at the NRA finals, and I put up my best score ever with a 78,” he smiled.
Capital High senior Guy Nordahl, and Tanner Hollenbach, a junior from Dillon, are taking the bull riding class.
“This is the best school in Montana,” said Nordahl, who comes from a longtime rodeo family. “We all look up to Scott (Breding), he’s one of the best in the business. He definitely knows what he’s talking about, and I’m hoping to filter from what he’s learned.”
When asked what makes a person want to climb on top of the bucking giants in the first place, the slender Hollenback (5-foot-8, 120-pounds) quickly answered, “Because it’s a lot of fun,” before adding, “But you’re dumb if you’re not a little bit scared when you get on ‘em. But it’s that fear that makes you not want to screw up.”
Corey noted that the purpose of the school is not solely to teach riding.
“We want to instill in them a winning attitude,” Corey said. “Some of these kids have never even ridden before, and after the school they might decide that rodeo is not for them. But hopefully they’ll take with them some instruction on being winners in life.”

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