by Hope Holland
There are very few kids that at one time or another didn’t entertain the idea of being a cowboy. These days, with the advent of professional bull riding, a lot of those kids have gone straight to the idea of the glory of being a top bull rider.
However, with the glory of bull riding comes a great deal of dirt, disappointment and pain. Every job has its drawbacks and bull riding has a lot more drawbacks than most other jobs. In fact, if it wasn’t such a darn addictive sport, it might not exist at all. But bull riding is addictive and it not only exists, it is flourishing.
The best way to learn what the hard lessons are is to go and watch riders on the bulls themselves and this is exactly what was going on at Butch and Krista Groft’s Bull Riding Clinic at the Buck Wild Rodeo grounds in Union Bridge, MD recently. The clinic was taught by Trinity Dunkelberger, a member and bull rider at Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association (SEBRA), International Bull Riding (IBR) and the PBR itself.
Dunkelberger not only brought himself and his experience but also his own young son, Dakota, to get on some of the mini bulls that are one of the mainstays of Buck Wild’s line of big and little bulls. As you might expect, mini bulls are smaller-sized copies of the real deal, complete with a general line of bucks and dirty tricks in order to unseat a rider. They are absolutely equipped with full-sized bull attitude. In fact the main difference between them and the bigger bulls is probably only the fact that the fall is closer to the ground.
Everything at the Buck Wild Clinic was just what you would expect at a bull riding school — lots of different bulls, the chutes and the arena, folks watching the riders trying to get a ride that lasts the full eight seconds and, of course, the bullfighters.
Bullfighters used to be called clowns and some do still present themselves as a happy-go-lucky group, but they are deadly serious about what it is that they do: Put themselves in jeopardy to protect the riders during and after their rides. These are the guys who, like police and firefighters, run toward danger. Bull attitude does not stop when the rider falls. In fact, it can increase if the bulls decide to finish the job and go after the fallen cowboy. That is when the bullfighters put themselves between the bulls and the riders, to give the cowboys time to race for the fence. If a rider is down, the bullfighters will stand over them to protect them until the arena can be cleared and help arrives.
Two bullfighters were on hand during the clinic. Joshua Odonnell and Keith Conley were busy all day long doing the good things that bullfighters do. In fact, in a Facebook message to Keith Conley after the Saturday event, Dakota’s mother, Amanda Dunkelberger, said, “Keith, you made Dakota feel safe and he said he felt like he could ride anything. That means more to me than anything in this world knowing my kids feel safe. I appreciate everything you did. I hope that you come and fight for these kids! You really made them feel safe!!! Best bull rider in my book” – which, coming from a mother of a young bull rider and the wife of a working bull rider, has to be high praise indeed.
The Grofts average between 15 and 25 riders a clinic. In Krista’s words, “They ride a minimum of 10 bulls to a maximum of 25 in a day. It all depends on their skill level and desire. We buck bulls until the riders are done each day.”
One of the youngest bull riders was one of the highest level of his age group. Nicholas Jackson, at 10 years old, has been riding mini bulls since he was seven. He is a member of the Maryland High School Rodeo Association (2017 Li’l Buckers Tour Champion) and is well on his way to compete in the Junior NFR (National Finals Rodeo) in Las Vegas, as he is leading in points for the 10-11 year olds in the Leal’s Junior Bull Riding Championship North East Division. It should also be mentioned that Nicholas’ father, Cory, was at that clinic as well, supporting his son and working the chute gates for the other riders. Rodeo and bull riding both pride themselves on being a family affair.
Sponsorships of $1,000 were awarded to Nicholas Jackson, Cody McCandless and Wyatt Moffitt. The participating sponsors were EDT Truck Services, Mitch Snow; Dunkelberger Bull Riding Schools, Trinity Dunkelberger; and the Buck Wild Rodeo Co., Butch and Krista Groft. These were for the kids’ group and each young bull rider earned $1,000 toward 10 entry fees to this season’s events, and shirts with the names and logos of all three of the sponsors on them.
The clinic’s work left a lot of riders with more experience, more bruises and more knowledge of what it is that not only the bulls expect of them but also of what they must expect of themselves if they want to succeed.
Learning to succeed at the toughest sport on four hooves
by Hope Holland