BlueDEF PBR 2016

By The Horns

Professional Bull Riders’ Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour takes over the Nutter Center

By Terri Gordon
Photo: By Natan Daubaugh


It’s hard to know how and where the sport of bull riding truly began. Bulls have figured into histories and folklores for millennia. They’ve been central to religions and festivals alike. Ancient Minoans held contests where rivals essentially did a cartwheel over the head—and horns—of a bull.

But surely, the forerunners of modern bull riding developed from the real-life skills of roping and wrestling and managing livestock on the ranches and missions of the West—skills appropriated, just as surely, from the vaqueros of Mexico who, in turn, learned them from the Spanish who had conquered their lands.

It is not difficult to imagine how contests arose. Drunken dares. Bets. Just plain old showing off. However they happened, happen they did—small and informal at first, gaining steam—until the rodeo was ubiquitous at county and state fairs, and as for-profit traveling shows. In his book “Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination,” Michael Allen chronicles how rodeos rose to popularity—along with similarly themed Wild West shows—toward the end of the 19th century (after the Civil War) and into the 20th. While Wild West shows eventually faded away, rodeos grew in popularity. The Rodeo Association of America was formed in 1929. Men and women competed in such events as calf roping, barrel racing, bronco riding, steer wrestling—and bull riding.

Of all rodeo events, bull riding is probably the most dangerous. To call it exciting is understatement. Exhilarating, you’re getting warm. And just plain crazy, too. Yet, it is impossible to look away as would-be riders, outfitted in chaps and boots and spurs, climb aboard and tie themselves to 2,000 pound, unpredictable, bucking bulls.

In 1992, 20 cowboys each put up $1,000 to form what is now the Professional Bull Riders—or PBR—aiming to create a standalone sport, independent of the rodeo. And their investment paid off. The PBR is a thriving endeavor with over 600 riders competing in more than 300 events throughout the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, and Australia. The PBR gives out more than $10 million in prize money each year, thanks in part to partnerships with Ford, Wrangler, Jack Daniel’s, Dickies®, and the city of Las Vegas.

The dream of every bull rider is making it to the Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas, where the winner receives the World Championship buckle and a $1 million bonus. The PBR has several tours—to better accommodate the number of riders—but the biggie is the Built Ford Tough Series, which is televised on CBS, CBS Sports Network, and other networks around the world.

Now, in reality, riding a bull is a pretty simple thing. While the bull is in a narrow steel “chute,” a rider lowers him or herself onto its back and ties his or her hand to the bull with a bull rope that goes under the bull’s belly. Once the cowboy or cowgirl is ready, the gate is opened and both bull and rider explode into the arena paddock. The objective is for the rider to stay on the twisting, turning creature until the buzzer goes off—at the eight-second mark. During this time, the rider is not allowed to touch the bull with his free hand—the hand that is not tied to the bull—and rather, uses it to help him keep his balance.

At the end of a successful ride (one that lasts the full eight seconds), a panel of judges works to score the ride. One hundred points are split between the rider and the bull. The bull is scored for how difficult he is to ride, while the cowboy is judged on control and style. The two scores are then added together for the total score. Events usually have three to four rounds, and the rider with the highest scores wins. Simple. But simple is not always easy. Just ask Cody Ford.

Pull-quote: “I tore my groin off the bone.”

Cody Ford is 28-years-old. He’s grown up on his family’s ranch in northern Oregon, raising steers and training quarter horses. It’s a lifestyle. It’s what he knows. One day, as a boy, he happened upon a PBR event on TV. In that moment, he knew what he wanted to do. Yep, he wanted to be a bull rider.

“I watched Chris Shivers and a bunch of guys get on—on TV, from the PBR,” Ford explains. “From that day on, that’s all I wanted to do was be a bull rider. I enjoy it—just everything I ever wanted to do is be a bull rider. I started when I was about 10-years-old and worked my way up from calves and steers and junior bulls.”

He joined the PBR in 2007. Livin’ the dream, he climbed the ladder fast, qualifying for the championships in both 2008 and 2009. His most memorable ride happened in February of 2009, when he scored 92.75 points, riding Julio Moreno’s Troubadour. It earned him his first ever Built Ford Tough Series event title, even beating out one of his role models, two-time PBR World Champion, Chris Shivers.

“You’re not going to overpower a bull,” Ford explains about riding. “They weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. And so, it’s a complete counter move thing. When he’s turning right, there’s a move that you have to make to stay in the middle of him, and keep your shoulders square, and your hips square, and your feet down. And when you go to the left, it’s the same thing. It’s trying to stay balanced on top of his back. There’s no way you’re going to just clamp down and hang on.”

“Bull riding is such a sport where, if you keep a foot on each side, and one hand [on the bull], not touching with the other, you’re going to get a score,” he continues. “So, there’s not a lot that goes into it, but it’s dang sure a lot harder than a lot of people think!”

Remember how I said bull riding was a dangerous sport? That’s true, and Ford has learned it the hard way. In 2009, he “tore [his] groin off the bone.” It took a full year just to heal. Then, he began the slow-climb back, riding horses to rebuild his strength.

Finally, 2012 saw him ready to compete. He returned to the tour. He took on World Champion bull Asteroid. The bull threw Ford hard, breaking his hip. Out again. However, he was not ready to give up. After another long recovery, he hit the tour again. So far, so good.

Ford probably doesn’t have oodles of time left in bull riding, though. Realistically, most riders retire by their mid-30s. But for now, he’s feeling good. Staying healthy is his top priority.

“I want to be a world champion,” Ford says, undaunted.

“A lot of luck goes into trying to not get hurt, but no matter how good you are, if you’re hurt, you’re not going to be able to win. I just really, really try to stay as fit as I can, and take the best care of my body, and not put myself in a situation where I’m going to get hurt.”

“It’s learning how to fall, and to stay away from stuff,” Ford says, adding how much time he’s spent training. “I don’t want to be bulky and lift a lot of weights, but I want to be pound for pound strong, and really fit.”

Take the bulls out of the equation, and the PBR is still a lot of work. Seven semi trucks bring all the steel bucking chutes, panels, gates, and posts that set the “stage.” Plus, 750 tons of dirt. A crew of 30 spends 36 hours setting up for the show. Then, they take it all down, load it back up, and move on to the next event. Now, add the bulls. Fifty of them show up for each event.

The cowboys travel a lot, too—between events, and from the ranches where they carry out the duties of their “day jobs.” Some of them are also stock contractors, the folks who breed, raise, train, and tend the bucking bulls. On the day we spoke, Ford was on his way to Salt Lake City to deliver some horses, but he’s already thinking of the plane he’ll be catching to the next PBR event.

“Ten days ago, we were in Oakland, California,” he says. “Then, all last week, we were in Denver, Colorado. Last weekend, we were in Portland, Oregon. And some weekend soon, we’re in Youngstown, Ohio. So there’s a lot of traveling that goes on.”

“Some people’s dreams are others’ nightmares, I suppose, but I get to go all over the world, with the PBR, and do things I couldn’t do if I wasn’t a member.”

Pull-quote: “Bulls are a lot like humans.”

Any discussion of bull riding would not be complete without mention of the bulls. They are an important part of the show—the other athletes. It is their job to jump and twist and kick, to do their best to knock the cowboy or cowgirl on their back, onto the dirt on the ground. They all get lucky sometimes, but others do their jobs very well. Holding the record for most buck-offs in a row is Bushwacker. He threw 42 consecutive riders before finally being ridden. It is the longest streak of any Built Ford Tough Series bull. The bulls are intelligent, each with his own personality. Ford says they’re a bit like people that way.

“Bulls are a lot like humans,” Ford elaborates. “Some are nice, some are not so nice, some are really sneaky acting. If you turn your back on them, they have a tendency to want to, what we call, ‘hook’ you. Some will wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day, and go at you. Some are really nice.”

Bruiser, last year’s World Champion bull, “is like, the best bull there is,” according to Ford. “You can scratch him, and he’ll eat out of your hand—but you put him in the bucking chute, it’s a whole other story.”

It’s a tight-knit community of riders and stock contractors, judges, and staff that make up the PBR. Bullfighters work on the ground to help manage the bulls and keep the riders safe as they dismount. Their function is crucial when something goes awry. Their intervention can keep a bad buck-off from resulting in injury. Support is also found in the medical team, ready for injuries great and small. The loyal fans who come to watch the bulls and cheer on the cowboys and cowgirls are part of this big family, which is sure to continue the PBR name far into the future.

The Professional Bull Riders Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour takes place Saturday, Feb. 18 at Wright State University Nutter Center, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy. #430 in Fairborn. Show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15–$150. For tickets or more information, please contact the Nutter Center Box Office online at or at 800.745.3000.

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Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks ( is a "bulletin board" of some of her favorite things.

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