adventure, bull-riding, rodeo

Just Because You Ride Him Once Doesn’t Mean You’ll Ride Him Again

“What’s going on out there?” Debbie asked the chubby young boy who was buying a Snicker’s bar. Debbie worked in the concession stand at Kowbell on Friday nights. She was older, older than us anyway (30 at most), and kind of a motherly figure to all of the regular bull riders.

“John Bird got thrown into the fence. They’ve called an ambulance, but he’s already dead,” the kid answered.

A few weeks earlier, I had won the Sunday bull riding on J. D., a black, white-faced bull with horns that stuck straight out. He bucked high and hard, unpredictably spinning in either direction. Jack promoted J.D. to senior bull status around the same time that Travis and I started entering the senior division. We all moved up together.

I was glad to have J. D. again. Jody and Monty Penny were there that night, and I wanted to impress them. Jody had been a high school rodeo star and a classmate of mine. Now he was winning PRCA rodeos on TV and becoming a local celebrity.

Monty, his dad, was also a well-known professional bull rider. At 45 years old, he was still riding. Just outside of the rodeo arena in Billy Bob’s, there is a separate, enclosed section of the bar. Rodeo pictures and posters used to cover the walls. An 8×10 showed Jody riding a bull on one side, his dad riding on the other, with the caption, “Two Cents Worth.”

Jody and Monty were helping me get ready.

Since I had ridden J. D. without much trouble the last time, I thought that I would really show him tonight.

It isn’t healthy to have that much confidence.

All I remember is sliding down on the bull to get ready. Jody said that I started out fine.

The story was that J. D. came out of the chute, turned to the right, and bucked along the front of the arena. When he got to the corner, he whipped to the left to go into a spin.

I flew to the right, headfirst into the out gate. You could hear the bang, they said, from the covered pens behind the arena.

When I hit the ground, I had a post-concussive seizure. It wasn’t rare for someone to get knocked out at a rodeo, so we saw these often. Bull riders called it “doing the chicken.”

While I was still jerking, some kid ran up saying that he was an EMT and tried to stick his pocketknife in my mouth to keep me from “swallowing my tongue.” Travis told him to get back or he would need an EMT. The kid listened and left my tongue and me alone.

The group waited for the ambulance. Some apparently thought I was dead, or at least about to be. Debbie cried. Others, I’m sure, were cursing me for holding up the bull riding.

I don’t know how long I was out. When I woke up, I was on a stretcher. The ambulance had time to drive the 15 miles from Burleson to Mansfield before I came to my senses. Or at least before I became conscious; bull riders seldom “come to their senses.”

It turned out that I wasn’t dead, but I did have a “slight” concussion—I would hate to have a major one. For the next few weeks in class, I could hardly write to take notes, and I never have remembered anything about that ride. But I did learn that staying on a bull once doesn’t mean that you’ll stay on him again.

From my book, “Used to Want to Be a Cowboy.”

About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.


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