There are easier ways to make a living than trying to hang on to 2,000 pounds of hamburger-in-waiting that’s intent on tossing its rider onto a dirt-covered bull ring.
But the prospect of getting $10,000 or so for an 8-second ride was a pretty good lure for 35 young cowboys who performed last night at the Professional Bull Riding Invitational at Huntington Center in downtown Toledo.
Just ask Luke McCoag, 22, who’s been riding bulls for 11 years, three of them on the professional circuit.
Mr. McCoag was lured to the sport when a rodeo stopped in his hometown of New Market, Ont. To his parents’ initial disappointment, he followed his older brother into the ring.
“I though it was a cool thing to try,” he said while waiting for the event to start.
He ranks a proud third place in the International Professional Bull Riding Association’s standings, and admits he makes a decent living at it — although “a good night for me is just getting out the chute.”
The Canadian rider says he spends 70 percent of his time on the bull-riding circuit, looking for the big payday and a chance to advance to the Built Ford Tough Series, where the real money can be made.
David Henderson, an agent for Christopher Tejero of Farmingdale, N.J., said that with a good rider at events such as Toledo’s able to take home $10,000, “a real successful rider could get a quarter-million [dollars] a year.”
Last year’s top money earner in the Professional Bull Riders was Brazilian Guilherme Marchi, who was paid $248,174 in 27 events.
The second top draw in 2011 was Chris Shivers of Jonesville, La., whose ability to stay on the bulls earned him $101,804 from 18 events.
Bull riding looks simple enough. Bulls, some with names such as Wicked Cool, Mean Machine, Strange Brew, and Humm Dinger, are paired with riders in a corral erected at one end of the arena.
It’s an arranged marriage of sorts for riders and their bulls. Riders learn on the night of each event which bull they’ll mount. About 50 bulls are part of the circuit that tours the country from January to October.
The rider, protected by a helmet and a padded vest, holds a braided rope with one hand and keeps the other hand in the air. Touching the animal or himself with the free hand is a point-spoiler.
Eight seconds is the magic number that leads to payday. Rider and bull are scored; 100 is rare, and scores in the 80s are considered good.
Staying atop a ton of bucking beef, however, is fraught with danger. Injuries are common. But Mr. McCoag said he’s been lucky in that respect.
“I’ve stayed healthy so far. You have your sore days, that’s for sure,” he said while a team of volunteer medical workers from ProMedica facilities wheeled a gurney under the stands before program started. “That’s OK,” he said, eyeing the volunteer medics in their lime-green shirts. “It’s just in case.”
The prospect of a little mayhem wasn’t lost on Lucas Turner, 12, of Toledo.
Lucas, seated with a group of friends near the corral and the chute, said he didn’t necessarily want to see blood shed on the dirt.
“But I want to see someone fall,” he said. “I want to see a big knockoff.”
Bernie Chrisholm, who works as a cardiac nurse when not watching bull riding on TV, was joined by her husband Ken, an orthopedic nurse, as part of the team prepared to assist injured riders.
She said she jumped at the chance to volunteer, because it meant getting to watch bull riding up close.
“She’s a closet fan, for sure,” Mr. Chrisholm said.
Mrs. Chrisholm, who waited with a handful of bandage wraps and a can of blood-clotting material, said she would handle triage, and her husband would deal with broken bones.
“It’s full of potential,” she said.
The event continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and adult tickets range from $35 to $50 plus fees. Children’s tickets cost $12.
Contact Jim Sielicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.