“I grew up on a farm in Cole Camp, Missouri. I enjoyed watching amateur rodeos, but my family wasn’t a rodeo family,” says professional bull rider Matt Bohon. “I’d see bareback riding, bucking horses, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, and steer wrestling.”

The eight seconds a bull rider attempts to stay atop a thrashing bull are often referred to as the most dangerous eight seconds in sports, yet Bohon would rather jump on the back of a bull than a bucking horse.

“Bucking horses scare me. Horses are just crazy and stupid,” he says. “Bulls, yeah, they may be mean and wild, but they’re going to look after themselves before they worry about throwing a guy off; whereas I’ve seen horses flip and do just about anything to get a guy off. I’d rather get an 1800-pound bull that is smart than a 1300-pound horse that’s stupid.”

Nearly 30 bull riders, including Bohon, will compete this weekend at the Del Mar Fairgrounds as part of the Professional Bull Riders Tour. Bohon, who talked his parents into letting him ride his first bull at age 13, learned much of his technique from bull-riding schools. Like riders, bulls are often put through a training regimen.

“At two years old, [bulls] will attend futurities,” says Anna Hunt, one of many stock contractors supplying bulls for the competition. During a futurity event, a dummy weighing approximately 30 pounds is affixed to a bull’s back, as is a flank strap, which encourages kicks — the strap is pulled tight enough to irritate the bull, but loose enough to make him think he can kick it off. The dummy is kept on the bull for six seconds and then released by remote control. Six seconds is enough time for judges to determine how well a bull will perform.

Despite the brutal image most people have from having seen video footage of a bull tossing a cowboy around like a rag doll, Bohon says that it is during the dismount that injury is most likely to occur.

“Even at the level we’re at, you’ll see a lot of guys, after the whistle blows, go to get off and land either right in front of the bull or right up underneath the bull. If a guy lands square on the middle of his back, he’s kind of like an upside-down turtle there,” says Bohon.

In 1989, professional bull rider Lane Frost was gored to death when, after having safely rolled off the bull, the animal turned and charged him. Rodeo clowns, now referred to as bull fighters, are on hand to distract the bull after the rider is bucked off. In Frost’s case, the bull was too fast.

“If a guy just lands right beside a bull, not only is he in danger of getting stepped on, but he puts the bull fighters at risk,” says Bohon. “What I do depends on which way the bull’s spinning. If he’s spinning to the left, I can get off to the right — I just kind of slide over to the right-hand side of his body and let his momentum and his hip throw me out of there a good five or six feet away from his hind feet.”

Bohon has seen his share of injuries at the rodeo. “I’ve seen a kid die. The bull stepped on his neck. He ended up dying on his way to the hospital.” Bohon, 15 at the time, was next in line to ride. As the trampled teenager was being taken away on a stretcher, Bohon was positioning himself on top of another bull in the chute.

Several of Bohon’s friends have broken vertebrae in their necks (“like a C1, C2, or C4”) or their femurs. One friend suffered an open fracture on his forearm, the bone having broken through the skin. “That was kind of neat looking,” Bohon remembers of the rare injury.

“The most common injuries are knees and shoulders,” Bohon continues. “The knees, when you land you might blow your knee out, and the wear and tear on your shoulders from riding...I’ve been very fortunate. The worst injury I’ve had is a broken hand, the right one that I hang on with. I was in the middle of a ride and got into a little bit of a bind and broke a little bone up in there. But I was able to keep competing.”

— Barbarella

Professional Bull Riding
Saturday, July 26, and Sunday, July 27
8 p.m.
Del Mar Fairgrounds
2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard
Del Mar
Cost: $26 per day ($5 discount for military)
Info: 719-242-2800 or www.sdfair.com

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