THE MOST DANGEROUS
8 SECONDS IN SPORTS
by Jolene Polyack
images by Frankie Leal
What possesses a person to climb upon a 2,000 pound wild beast, on purpose? For joey (cortez) bray, the clues were all there. At two he rode sheep. He advanced to calves, then junior bulls and finally, at age 17, full grown bulls. Why? He thinks it’s fun.
Bray attended Reedley High School and took time off from his animal-riding ways in order to focus on football, wrestling and baseball. However, once he turned 17, he decided to go back to his first love, bull riding.
How does one learn how to bull ride, you ask? Bull riding school, of course. There are actually quite a few of them I found out when I “googled.” It’s one of the last true ‘cowboy’ sports in the U.S. Bull riding as we know it today began back in the 1900’s and is still going strong. There are over 1,200 bull riders from the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico with Professional Bull Rider (PBR) memberships. The top bull rider in the U.S. earns a whopping $1 million dollar bonus each year. According to PBR there are over 300 events per year in various tours including the Elite Tour, Touring Pro Division or the PRB International Circuits. The goal of most bull riders is to qualify for the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas where the PBR World Champion, and winner of the $1 million purse, is decided.
Sports commentators have called the sport “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.” Which is accurately stated, since there are 32 injuries per 1,000 ‘competitive exposures,’ (i.e. placing yourself on a bull) according to faculty of the University of Calgary who conducted a five year study. The top injuries are sprains, contusions, fractures, concussions, lacerations, and dislocations. That’s probably why there aren’t more bull riders.
What’s it like sitting on a bull? Bray says, “There is no other adrenaline rush in the world. My heart is beating a hundred miles a minute, my hands are shaking, I stick my hand in my rope and it’s me and this bull; it’s like a dancing partner. You have to react. You can’t guess. You just have to react to the bull. You don’t hear the crowd. You don’t hear anything.”
Bray, who is now 20, completed his first year of bull riding in 2012. He currently practices with his best friend Garrett Lange, 23, of Kingsburg, at the Bernie Rodriquez Bucking Bulls facility in Sanger at least two to three times per week. They go to most of the competitions together.
Lange’s father was a bull rider and began teaching Garrett how to ride when he was ten by using cows. He attended Bull Riding School where he learned the various techniques to be successful, such as how to position your body and how to respond to the bull’s movements. Lange says it’s 90% mental and 10% physical. He says he envisions winning in preparation for his ride. Last year he earned $14,000 and has qualified for the popular Clovis Rodeo several times. Lange’s career best ride received 86 ½ points out of 100.
Winning consists of having the highest amount of points on your ride. Points are given depending on the difficulty of the bull (up to 50 points) and the technique of the rider himself (up to 50 points). The rider must stay on the full eight seconds in order to receive any points at all. In general, a score in the 80’s is considered excellent and a score in the 90’s is considered exceptional.
Last year Lange finished 17 in the circuit, but for most of the year was ranked in the top 12. Some of the highest paying rodeos, such as the Clovis Rodeo, will only allow the top riders to compete at their event.
Bray said, “It’s a sport on dirt – either way you end up on the dirt, either on your back or your feet. Pick one. But you get more points riding better quality bulls: those known to hurt people or buck are really hard to ride. Sometimes the violent ones are OK if you need the money and you can win. The more difficult the bull, the more opportunity you have to win that day.”
Both bull riders consider their sport to be their main passion. When not bull riding, Bray shoes horses and Lange works in the construction industry.
Interestingly, the PBR considers the bull himself to be an athlete and states that the animals are treated with the same respect as their human counterparts. The bulls have an annual “Bucking Bull of The Year” award. Each time the bull enters the ring, he too is given a score based on the number of riders he’s bucked off. At the PBR finals, only the best bulls are brought in. The award brings prestige to the ranch that raised him.
It appears bull riding is increasing in popularity. While the current sport began in the 1900’s, since the 16th century bull riding has existed in one form or another. Originating in Mexico, it has spread to many countries including the large following at rodeos across the United States. It might be considered the first extreme sport. There is much speculation as to why the sport’s popularity is on the rise, however, many people involved with the sport will tell you it’s the increase in prize money. The top all-time bull rider has made over $5 million dollars, eight seconds at a time! Good luck to Bray and Lange on their bull riding endeavors. May your feet be the first part to touch the dirt, always!