Just a bunch of bull
It’s about as close as most people get to bull-riding, which, after years of being “the first extreme sport,” resides closer to the mainstream than ever.Still, a bareback rider will make in a week what a professional golfer makes with a 4-foot putt. Yet the symbol of rodeo, unlike the event itself, has been – and will continue to be – in the foreground.Forget Wall Street, we’re talking about the real stock market. The recent flux and flow of Dow Jones has bucked more investors than an arena full of cowboys. Being a bull, or a bull-rider, means throwing out concern for trends and brushing aside conservatism for the chance of being trampled.But being a bear isn’t the answer, either – not with the Vail residents at arms over their garbage, anyway.Either way, tonight at 7 p.m. at the Eagle County Fairgrounds, the Eagle County Rodeo kicks off with a look-ma-one-hand-style hoedown starring 2,000-pound performers decked out in brown leather and horns. On them will be apparel-sized riders in belt buckles and jeans trying to hang on for a precious eight seconds. It’s bull-riding. It’s time away from the worries of the marketplace, and here’s how it works.The riders will be judged on two fronts by two judges. If a rider’s style and commitment merits a good score, judge Bobby Fulton will give him a 22 -just off a perfect score of 25. That’s just half of it. The bull deserves a score, too.”It’s a real, real wild roller coaster. You can’t see what he’s got on his mind,” says Fulton, a professional judge for many years who quit riding because of injury. “The score’s about how hard the bull bucks and he’s kicking. If he just spins, it’d be 17 or 18. If he’s bucking and spinning, I’d me more likely to give him a 22. If he starts left and quickly changes to the right, he’d be more like a 23 or 24. I’ll be down there watching right in the arena.”The other judge, C.W. Wegle of Windsor, will also give him two scores, for a total possible score of 100. Anything in the 90s is spectacular, with most leaders bringing in scores in the mid-80s. The higher the risk, the better the chance of scoring well.”People need to realize it’s business for these guys,” says Wegle, who won last year’s event in Eagle but is sitting out this season due to injury. “They take it serious. They’re not just out there for something to do. It’s what they love. It’s a way of life, which is the best way to describe it.”And the risks are worth appreciating. Thoughts of injury are second in mind to the top riders, knowing one eight-second segment can make them a legend and be their ticket to the pro tour. Far from the streets of Pamplona – where running isn’t considered chicken – there’s guys with posters on their walls of today’s Blue Stone or yesterday’s Lane Frost.Frost was a dominant bull-rider in the late 1980s, hovering among the top 15 riders in the country for five years running. His legend extends past his early death in the ring at the age of 25. His last ride occurred at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1989, where, after his last eight-second show gave him a third-place finish, the bull attacked.But Frost will be better known for conquering Red Rock, who had been unridden in 309 attempts before Frost at the 1987 Challenge of the Champions. Later that year, he won the 1987 PRCA Bull Riding World Championship.The 1994 movie “8 seconds,” starring Luke Perry, documented the life of Frost and the rise of a sport from small-town arena to the big screen.”Lane’s family was from rodeo, his father was a bronc rider,” says Sharon Mahrley, a family friend who runs lanefrost.com. “I like to think Lane makes the bull-riders today appreciate the people that come to watch, and hopefully they understand that Lane was more than a great bull-rider. Someone once e-mailed me after they read my site and said they learned from reading it that: “Lane might not have been the greatest bull-rider, but he was one of the greatest men to ride bulls.’ This is how the family likes Lane to be remembered.”Before Frost’s last ride, the crowd had been celebrating the performance of Marty Staneart, who rode the black-and-white Mr. T, a bull previously unbeaten. Mr. T’s ancestors, Classical T and T-Rex, have been bucking riders this season with the ferocity of their legendary forefather. T-Rex is stamped No. 7, while Classical T is branded 788, both coming from Burns Rodeo Co. in Laramie, Wyo., to Eagle today.”They’re some of the toughest animals out there,” said Les Ohlhauser, longtime announcer of the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo. “The Burns bulls have 60 or so shows this year and have been ridden five or six times. You will see cowboys on their backs.”While the small-town rodeo won’t see the top pro riders in the country, they will get the chance to witness professional riders from Arizona to Wyoming, who are willing to get on and hang on to top bulls for the chance at earning a little money. This year, the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo raised the bull-riding purse to $4,000 – double what it was last year.”Rodeo is a competitive venue; unless you have the money locked in, they won’t take the risk,” says Eagle County Fair and Rodeo Coordinator Dick Kesler. “We’re now to the point of our purse that we’re starting to compete with larger Front Range communities like Colorado Springs. We’ve seen our rodeo grow and we’re pleased.”Tonight, relax and remember those days of riding on the back of your father or brother, making them whinny and buck. Then, see the real thing.Tickets are $14 for adults, $6 for kids ages 6-12, and $10 for seniors.