Thursday, February 6, 2003

Bull Riders: little gain, lots of pain

One of world's most dangerous sports like a drug to these cowboys

By Robert Lopez
Enquirer contributor

[photo] Brian Seebock has been riding bulls for 10 years, and he will do it again at Longhorn Rodeo this weekend.
(Walter Smith photo)
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Brian Seebock isn't afraid of bulls, just what they can do to him.

The 26-year-old Vandalia, Ohio, native has been riding the bucking 2,000-pound creatures for 10 years.

His tough hide has sustained a number of cuts and bruises, and he once had his jaw wired for nine weeks. But he considers himself a lucky man.

"If you get scared you can't ride the bull," he says. "You can die pretty easily. But for me the greatest fear is the day I can't do it anymore."

Seebock will press his luck again at the Longhorn Rodeo this weekend at Cincinnati Gardens.

The rodeo will feature steer wrestling, calf-roping, barrel racing and saddle-bronc riding. But of all the events, only bull riding ranks as one of world's most dangerous sports.

"The best way to describe it is you either got to be really brave or really stupid," says Longhorn on-site manager and former bull rider Alan Coleman. "I quit because I was scared of them (the bulls). It's not if you get hurt, but when."

What: Longhorn Rodeo
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cincinnati Gardens
Tickets: $8 Friday; $12, $15 and $25 Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday kids under 12 and seniors over 62 pay half price. At Cincinnati Gardens box office, 631-7793, and Ticketmaster, 562-4949.Also performing: American Indian dancers from the Sioux, Navajo and Cherokee nations will perform in the opening ceremonies and during the second half of the rodeo.
To qualify, riders must hang on for eight seconds. They grab a rope with one hand and keep their other hand in the air to maintain their balance. The rider is judged on the difficulty of the bull, which is, in turn, judged by its strength, power and rhythm. On a 100-point scale, the best riders usually score in the 80s or low 90s.

Dangerous hooves

According to Coleman the hooves, not the horns, present the greatest threat.

"The most dangerous thing is weight," he says. "Most of your major injuries come from being stepped on."

"You're more likely to get hurt on a bull that bucks a lot than on one that doesn't," Seebock adds. "The one that bucks is going to throw you a mile. The one that doesn't is going to throw you right there in front of him."

Bull riders claim they're addicted to adrenaline.

Even after fracturing his eye socket, breaking his cheekbone and having a steel plate inserted into his face, Indianapolis bull rider Dan Skinner continues to climb atop the livestock.

"It always makes you wonder while you're lying there in bed, wishing you can get up and eat hard food, whether if it's the thing to do," he says. "But I can't get myself to quit, I like everything about it."

Seebock has a similar attitude.

"Why do I take so many risks? I don't think my response is very good," he says. "I just like to ride bulls. I would love for my kids to grow up and tell their buddies that their dad is a world champion bull rider. My son starts kindergarten next year and I want him to go to school with a gold belt buckle on."

Seebock was once ranked the No. 4 bull rider in the world and hopes to top the standings at the Longhorn this weekend.

It's a hard life

Even outside the ring, riders lead a hard lifestyle.

Professionals can make up to 75 to 80 trips a year, some involving 60-hour drives.

"You've got the risk of driving all the time," Skinner says. "You can drive 800 miles overnight to get to another rodeo."

Bull riders typically pay their own entry fees, and are paid based on how high they place.

Seebock says he makes about $40,000 a year riding (he also works during the week as a painter), and his biggest paycheck of $6,500 came from a show in Canada two years ago.

"My biggest pet peeve in the world is probably the money football players make," Seebock says. "I pay to do what I do, and I don't wear pads."

Seebock and Skinner both worked with horses while growing up, but seasoned veterans contend there's no formula for making a good bull rider.

"A lot of it is natural ability," Coleman says. "I've seen kids off the street and some guys make it into the major leagues at 18 or 19. It doesn't matter how much you know, it's what you're capable of."

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