I’m sure we have all participated in things, sometimes dangerous things, when we were younger that we probably would not do today. However, that’s not the case for me. We were a sports driven family. One sport season led into the next sport season and so on. If I could physically still play football, I would. If I could physically still ride bulls, I absolutely would.
Growing up in Mesquite, Texas in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the mind set was playing Texas football from Pop Warner leagues to high school and for many of us, participating in rodeo.
Neal Gay was the owner of Mesquite Rodeo back in those days. The rodeo was held in an outdoor arena covered by an open-ended metal roof. When it rained, it always seemed to soak the end of the arena where we were riding the rough stock.
If you have never attempted to ride a rodeo bull, and I realize most people have not, it’s hard to express the heart pounding thrill of the event. It is one thing to watch bull riding from the edge of your seat on TV or in person, and quite another to participate.
Neal’s son, Donnie Gay, eventually became an eight time PRCA Bull Riding World Champion. Donnie had a great deal of effect on many of the young cowboys particularly in Mesquite at that time. We all wanted to be like him.
I began working for Neal riding young bulls during buck-outs. Young bulls were brought to the arena that needed work before they made the main weekly rodeo events. My friends and I often rode five to ten bulls per night.
The thrill of climbing down onto a bull's back, having friends pull your bull rope for you, and eventually nodding your head for the gate to be opened is hard to match. No two bulls buck exactly the same. Some develop bucking patterns or moves that are successful in ejecting the rider off the bull's back. Others are unpredictable, with no set pattern. These bulls have to be ridden jump for jump. If the bull feels the rider cheating to one side or another, expecting the bull to go a certain direction, the animal often goes the opposite way, leaving the riding out of position and eventually in the dirt.
All bulls are not rodeo bulls. Some, like horses, seem to have no interest in bucking. I’ve owned bulls that anyone could walk straight up to and scratch their head between their eyes and they would not react.
While working in Colorado as a cowboy ranch hand I had an interesting experience with bulls one day.
The owner of the ranch was in his mid-eighties, but very active and rode horses daily. He was a World War II fighter pilot. Tough as nails.
One day, he asked me to assist him with the bull weights. I had no idea what that meant, but was glad to help with whatever it was.
Registered Hereford bulls are required to grow their horns in a particular shape and direction. Left to grow naturally, their horns can grow in any direction. These horns are controlled by weights attached to the end of each horn with set screws.
The ranch owner roped each bull out in the open meadow, with no pens or fences near.
My job was to put the weights on the bull’s horns. The bulls would stand there pulling back on the rope while I eased myself to the bulls head and put the weight on each horn and tightened the set screw. There was nothing between these 1,500 to 1,800 pound bulls and myself except about two feet of total terror. Occasionally, one of the bulls would explode in a blink and send me and my ratchet wrench flying through the air.
When that happened, the old man on the horse would say, “Get up and get back in there!” I thought to myself, this should be an Olympic event! There were only about 60 bulls in this particular herd. It was a long day.