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'Eight seconds of eternity'

August 23, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

WILLIAMSON, Pa. - There are some obvious hazards when it comes to the sport of bull riding.

Then, there are the not-so-obvious ones.

"You don't do this to impress women. It's too dangerous," said Robert Gordon, 21, of Hagerstown, one of two dozen riders competing for prize money Thursday night at the Franklin County Fair.

Divorce is an occupational hazard among bull riders, Gordon said.

"My ex-wife didn't like it too much. You get beat up a lot," he said.

Dusty Broughton of Ardmore, Okla., the announcer for Thursday night's event, calls bull riders "eight-second heroes," for the eight seconds they try to stay aboard one of the twisting, spinning Brahmans that make up the other half of a bull-riding team.

"It's eight seconds of eternity," Broughton said.

Nathan Catlett of Martinsburg, W.Va., was the only one of the first six riders who stayed aboard long enough to hear the eight-second buzzer. He drew a bull named High Tide.


None of the other five lasted more than a few seconds. They rode bulls with names like Swinger, Van Halen, Black Jack and Scenic View.

"That's what they get, a scenic view, if they can stay on for eight seconds," said Bobby Cox of Glen Rock, Pa., one of the clowns sent into the ring to protect fallen riders from the dangerous bulls.

Bucking bulls appear to have split personalities. They are docile, almost fearful, crowding into corners like chickens when men with long sticks herd them around. A change comes over them when they're under a rider and thrust into the open ring. Their only goal is to ignominiously unseat the man above and maybe gore him if they get the chance once he's on the ground.

"A mean bull doesn't necessarily mean he'll be a good bull in the ring," said Mark Reed, owner of the Triple R Bull Co., of Myersville, Md.

Reed brought 17 bulls Thursday. His herd numbers about 30, which he keeps on several Frederick County farms. Until five years ago, he rode bulls before he decided that it was safer to own them than ride them.

"You don't get hurt this way," Reed said.

Reed said the size of a bull doesn't matter as much as its ability to jump high, buck and twist.

"Cowboys like them to spin," he said.

His smallest bull weighs about 1,300 pounds.

"My big orange one goes about 2,100 pounds. That's over a ton," Reed said.

Most bucking bulls are Brahmans crossbred with Hereford, Angus and Charolais, Reed said. Only one quarter of their blood line is Brahman, he said. Brahmans have too much loose hide that can get in the way, he said.

"I can go up to some of my best bulls and pet them or scratch them behind the ears," Reed said.

Reed said he travels around the country looking for good bulls.

"You can buy 20 bulls and only find one that will work good enough," he said.

Bulls can be trained to buck to a point, Reed said.

"They're like race horses," Reed said. "Bucking comes natural to them. All you can do is help them to find their own natural ability."

Bulls cost at least $1,500, Reed said.

"I sold three in the last two years that brought $20,000 apiece," he said.

Reed said he's on the road with his bulls nearly every weekend during the summer following the rodeo circuit.

The Franklin County Fair continues through Saturday at the fairgrounds off Pa. 995.

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