Kicking up dust: Professional bull riding comes to Sioux Falls

Eight seconds. That’s all.

That’s how long a bull rider, with one hand tightly clenched around a rope and the other stretched towards the sky, needs to stay on the animal.

But for the rider, those eight seconds are wild. At any moment, the muscular beast weighing 1,500 pounds or more could buck hard enough to send the rider sprawling into the dirt, where he risks being trampled further.

To be appraised by the judges, the rider must hang on, twisting and turning in a dangerous dance that provides a thrill and intensity almost nothing else can match.

“[It’s] electrifying,” said professional bull rider Keyshawn Whitehorse. “I can’t really explain it. It’s definitely a feeling that is very hard to recreate in any other circumstance in life.”

Whitehorse, a 21 year old from McCracken Springs, Utah, was one of 35 cowboys who participated in the First Bank and Trust Invitational at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, which took place from Friday, April 5 until Sunday, April 7.

Put on by the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), the event celebrated its fifth year in Sioux Falls. The Premier Center had a capacity crowd on Saturday with a variety of fans, many wearing cowboy hats and boots. The audience was invested, cheering as riders fought to stay on during each buck and sending out a collective gasp when a rider got knocked off.

“It’s still pretty special to all of us to be able to come back here,” said Matt West, one of the announcers for PBR. “The fans are knowledgeable, they’re exciting, and as far as this year’s event, we’re in the middle of one of the best world championship races ever.”

If a rider stays on for eight seconds, both the rider and the bull receive scores of up to 50 points based on their performances. The riders are judged on the amount of control they have during the ride and their ability to match and counter the bull’s movements.

The bulls are treated as much like professional athletes as the riders. They are judged based upon their difficulty to ride and the amount of times that they spin, kick, change direction or drop their front end. The harder and more unpredictably that a bull bucks, the higher the score he is likely to receive.

Very few people in the world have the courage to even try this, much less be successful at it,” said West. “And I think that it’s a big drawing point, because it’s something that the rest of us can’t do. These guys are blessed with an ability and a courage, and they work tirelessly to do something that the rest of us ‘normal humans,’ can’t go do.”

It may seem like the rider and bull are naturally at odds, locked in a push and pull relationship from which only one can emerge victorious. But for some riders, like Whitehorse, this is not the case.

“Some guys, they use pure aggression to ride the animal,” Whitehorse said. “They’re all about fighting, they’re all about trying to beat them. For me on my aspect, I’m all about trust, balance, teamwork. He has to do good, I’ve got to do good, so we’ve [both] got to get a good score.”

This is what the bulls—often worth more than $10,000—were bred to do. According to the PBR media guide, they buck out of instinct, not because of any agitation caused by the handlers. Most stock contractors have a local veterinarian on call in case of any injury.

“A lot of these animals are worth a lot of money, so it’s something that, especially stock contractors, don’t take lightly,” said Whitehorse.

Augustana senior Ben Borson went on Saturday and said that it was a new experience.

“I definitely see why it’s entertaining to go to, because they definitely put on a good show,” said Borson. “It was a different atmosphere than like a sporting event that I usually go to, but one that was just as entertaining and just as fun.”

As Borson observed, PBR events emphasize showmanship. On Friday night, Australian country music artist Casey Barnes put on a performance with songs like “Keep Me Coming Back,” “Ain’t Coming Home” and “Footloose,” before the main event.

Large amounts of pyrotechnics and fire illuminated the bull riders during their introductions. Following that, the riders removed their hats for an invocation prayer and the U.S. Border Patrol honor guard carried the colors for the national anthem.

During the main event, while riders were preparing in the chutes, bullfighter Flint Rasmussen, kept the crowd entertained with jokes, like pronouncing the “Sioux” in “Sioux Falls” as “Si-ox.”

“I know it sounds cliché, but I always say, expect the unexpected,” West said. “You don’t have to be a bull riding fan, or a rodeo fan, or even know what’s going on to enjoy these shows. There’s literally something for everybody.”

In the end, Mason Taylor won the first place and $37,710 after accruing a total event score of 348.2 points on four bulls. Jose Vitor Leme, the runner-up, ended with a total event score of 271.5 points on four bulls and $24,760 in earnings.

When the riding drew to a close and people exited the building, fans entered the ring to meet their heroes and get autographs.

“They’re gentlemen, they’ll shake your hand, they’re the most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet,” said Augustana senior Jenae Phelps, who is a bull rider herself. “You can walk right up to them and ask for their autograph and they’ll be like, ‘OK,’ and they’ll take a picture with you. You don’t really get that with a lot of other high athletes. It’s a pretty cool sport.”

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