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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704

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Thrill offsets danger for bull riders

FROM 'JOURNAL AND COURIER' WWW.LAFAYETTEJC.COM  

'RISKY BUSINESS'

JULY 29, 2001

THRILL OFFSETS DANGER FOR BULL RIDERS

BY BRENDAN MURPHY

(PREFACE: WARNING - UNDER INDIANA LAW, AN EQUINE PROFESSIONAL IS NOT LIABLE FOR INJURY TO, OR THE DEATH OF, A PARTICIPANT IN EQUINE ACTIVITIES RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT RISKS OF EQUINE ACTIVITIES.)

ROCKFIELD:  That not-so-subtle disclaimer isn't running through the helmet-covered head of bull rider Shane Grounds as he hits the mud- sloped surface following his ride on an uptight bull.

Getting over the ring's outer wall and away from an enraged 1,500 pound bull is.

But he wouldn't change it for anything.  That's why Grounds can usually be found at the Rock Creek Ranch in this tiny town north of Delphi on Wednesday evenings, along with a handful of other bull riders trying their luck against one of most fiece of four-legged creatures.

The ranch, which is run by Joe and Cathy Crane and sits alongside the Wabash River, is a place where aspiring bll riders come to hone their skills.  It's also where the Cranes try to determine which of their bulls has the ability to move on to a national rodeo circuit.

"Most of these guys who come out here do it for the pure excitement and thrill of bull riding," Joe Crane said.  "They love this sport and love the challenge of getting on that bull and trying to stay on for eight seconds."

EIGHT SECONDS?   YIPES

Certainly those eight seconds must feel like an eternity, especially when, according to the Indiana Horse Council, you are taking your life into your own hands.

But on a recent steamy Wednesday evening nearly 60 spectators - including a couple of infants - filled the bleachers on one side of the bull ring, with their eyes fixated on the riders who were perched on top of a snot-slinging bull across the ring.

COWBOY UP

Just watching the handlers get a bull ready for a ride should be enough to scare off the toughest of riders.

But it doesn't.

After the bull - with a little 'help' from the likes of Joe Crane, son Clovis and others - is moved into one of the cages, a series of ropes is placed around the belly of the beast.  One of those is a flank strap strategically placed which 'helps' the bull buck just a little bit more - and considerably harder.

A bull rider's equipment consists of a braided rope, a glove and spurs.  There is no saddle, so the only instrument holding the rider on is the wrap around the hand, usually the right one.

"It may not be the most mainstream sport, but this is what we love to do,"  Grounds said.  "It's us against the bull.  There is no hiding.  

Either you have what it takes to beat him, or the bull tosses you off.

"Many may think we're crazy for doing this.  but for the most part everyone who is out here has done this for a while.  We know how to handle these bulls.  we know the dangers involved and accept them."

NO CLOWNING AROUND

During a bull ride, rodeo clowns provide a measure of protection for the riders.  Dressed in alternating colors of blue and red to distract the bull, the clown jumps into the fray once the rider is bucked to the ground and makes sure the bull doesn't do some damaging dancing on the rider.

This responsibility at Rock Creek belongs to Scott Bixby, who scurries around the ring hunched over.  His face is painted red and blue, sometimes coming within inches of the bull.  All the while, he is trying to stay out of the raging animal's path.

Sometimes that doesn't happen.

Bixby recently broke his right forearm after coming into contact with a bull, which then proceeded to toss him roughly 6 feet before Bixby landed awkwardly in the mud.

But that didn't stop him from finishing his duties that night.

"I'm okay," Bixby told Cathy Crane, as he applied some tape to his forearm to help stop the pain.

Bixby has the 'luxury' of a reinforced plastic barrel, which is used to hide behind if he gets himself in trouble in the middle of the ring.  As if the bull is going to turn the other way upon seeing the barrel.

MAIN ATTRACTION

But the sole reason spectators come to the ranch is the bulls.  These animals are massive and only show their temper when placed alone in the ring, with ropes connected around its midsection and a rider on top.

Before the riders jump on, the bulls graze peacefully on the hundreds of acres which surround the ranch.  Once the bulls are placed as a group in the holding pen behind the ring, it's evident they are not too happy.

It gets worse.  For the bulls, anyway.

Sometimes using an electrical jolt, the bulls are brought to the cage where they are placed by itself, awaiting it turn in the ring.

As the bull lets those around it know, this is an unhappy time.

The bull gets on its hind legs and leaps, trying to find a way to escape over the 8-foot high cage. With a dinosaur-like roar, blood spewing from its mouth and snot flinging from its nose as it viciously moves its head from side to side, the handlers finally get the bull under control and back on all fours.

If the riders are lucky - and for the most part they are not - the bull will be still and calm until the gate opens. When that happens it's beast vs. man.

Guess who usually wins?


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