WITH names such as Suicidal and The Widow Maker, it’s no wonder professional bull riding is a spectator sport.
This weekend’s Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event, the Tamworth Invitational at the Australian Equine and Livestock Event Centre, will showcase not only top bull riders but some of the best animal athletes in Australia.
Weighing in excess of 1100kg, these hunks of intimidating muscle need just eight seconds to land a confident cowboy on his rear end and believe it or not, science is the main factor behind the buck.
“It’s in their DNA, the urge to buck. It can’t be trained or scared into them. It’s all about breeding and genetics,” PBR Australia general manager Glen Young said.
Elite breeding programs mean a bull that competes in a PBR event may have six or seven generations of bucking champions running through its veins.
Hellsaw is a bull that will be in action for Tamworth crowds tonight, and is a descendant of legendary Australian brahman bull Chainsaw, which won Bull of the Year a world record eight times in the late 1980s.
Just nine competitors stayed the regulation eight seconds on Chainsaw during his 10-year reign at the top, and his great-grandson is looking to emulate his success.
Another one to watch is the aptly named Suicidal, an 800kg Indonesian Bantang breed who is renowned for his ability to land the best riders in the dirt in record time.
“He’s electric to watch and just so agile. No one has figured him out yet, he’s had off some of the best riders in the world,” Mr Young said.
The bulls have to qualify for the events just like the riders, judged on their average buck-off time, percentage and overall performance.
But however bad and intimidating bulls may be on show in the arena, life at home is quite a different story.
On some contractors’ farms the bulls are treated like household pets, fed on premium grain and beer, given regular vitamin B shots and have a veterinarian on speed dial, 24 hours a day.
They travel to competitions in trailers with air-ride suspension with strict regulations governing the amount of hours they are allowed to travel before a rest stop.
Queensland contractors Trevor and Tony Dunne, the proud owners of champion bull That’s Gold, even have a nutritionist who designs the feeding regimen for their herd.
“I know of some contractors that actually bring their own water to events to make the animals feel more at home,” Mr Young said.
Contrary to popular belief, the bulls are handled regularly by their owners, Mr Young said.
Animal liberation campaigners would have the general public believe the sport is cruel, but Mr Young said that belief was generally due to miscommunication.
Statistics are readily available to anyone who asks and the PBR adheres to strict animal welfare guidelines.
Bulls have a 0.004 per cent chance of sustaining a life-threatening injury at a PBR event and only six bulls in total have been euthanased at the 1113 PBR events since 1992.
“They’re 50 per cent of our sport. Animal welfare is paramount,” Mr Young said.
“A lot of these bulls die happy in the paddock.”
Mr Young said the Australian bull riding scene was growing like wildfire, with crowd numbers increasing and events getting bigger and more popular each year.
“In the USA, the sport of professional bull riding is a billion-dollar industry and Australia is catching up fast,” he said.
With millions of dollars worth of prizemoney up for grabs, Mr Young said people take the competition pretty seriously.
AELEC venue manager Mike Rowland said tonight’s show would be a true spectacle in its own right, with entertainment, music, pyro- technics and, of course, those thrill-seeking cowboys.
“Tamworth just loves a rodeo and people travel from miles away to see it,” he said.
With $25,000 up for grabs in tonight’s event, both riders and bulls would be putting on a show for the predicted sell-out crowd, Mr Young said.
“Keep your eyes on Chase Outlaw from Arkansas, Jordan Hutt from Texas and Uralla’s Chris Lowe,” he said.
What’s the secret to staying on that bull for eight seconds?
“To quote professional bull rider Troy Dunn ‘It’s about a whole lot of ticker’,” Mr Young said.