The bulls headed to the Carroll County Agriculture Center this winter won't be competing for blue ribbons - but points for being rank.
In bull riding, being "rank" refers to the animals' "heart and athletic ability," not their aroma, said Lisa Williams, a co-owner with her father and brother of J Bar W Ranch Inc. in Johnsville, Frederick County. They plan to bring the Battle of the Beast pro-bull riding event to Westminster, beginning Jan. 1.
"We're not a rodeo - no horses," Williams said. "We took the best event of the rodeo and turned it into a two-hour show."
The series of 11 Carroll County bull riding shows will begin New Year's Day, running Saturdays through March 26, except for Jan. 15 and Feb. 26, she said. They hope to fill 1,800 seats or more for the Battle of the Beast, which will include a few other popular events, such as mutton busting, where children ride sheep, and a spectator-participation event called the Ring of Fear.
"We do shows at our own ranch, a summer series. Now we're going to Westminster to do a winter series," she said.
Larry Collins, the general manager at the agriculture center in Westminster, said he believes this will be a "great event. We rent the building; they bring in everything else - the dirt, bleachers, cages for the animals, and riders. It's a very, very interesting sport," he said.
Williams said the event is "exciting; it's dangerous; it's unpredictable."
Bull riders hold on to a flat, braided rope tied behind the bull's front legs, and must hang on for eight seconds with one arm up, she said. The rider is judged not only on how well he rides, but how well the bull bucks. A perfect score would be 50 for the rider, 50 for the bull, she said.
To make the animal buck, they tie "a flank rope - no tighter than your belt" in front of its hind legs - irritating but not hurting the beast, she said.
While the animal's performance is part of the rider's overall score, high-scoring bulls such as J Bar W's late and lamented herd sire Demolition Man earn honors all their own - such as the American Professional Rodeo Association's Best Buckin' Bull and being unridden by anyone at an event in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Demolition Man died two years ago, but two of his offspring, Shock & Awe, and Law Man, are making names for themselves at national events, Williams said.
The J Bar W Web site says, "Bull riding is the most popular and dangerous rodeo event. Serious injuries occur more often in this event than any other sport. These fearless animals can add injury by trying to trample or gore a fallen rider."
But Williams said their bulls aren't wild or mean. Their animals are often handled and must be compliant when loaded into travel trailers and pens, "so you do not want to work with a bunch of lions."
Bulls have been the highlight of shows held for about eight years at the J Bar W, on Route 75 between Union Bridge and Libertytown, she said. Their Born to Buck program breeds rodeo animals, most of them a Brahma crossbreed, she said.
At about two years of age, they try the bulls with a dummy on their backs and separate "the ones that buck really good," she said.
Her father, Johnny Williams, traveled years ago, performing in the calf-roping and bronco-busting rodeo events, she said. Her brother Sonny Williams, 32, rode bulls for 10 years and five years ago founded the International Bull Riders Association Inc., which has more than 90 members. Lisa Williams, 33, rode barrel races and, like her brother, still performs occasionally.
But, she said, "Your body's only going to hold out so long."
Hampstead Town Manager Ken Decker grew up with rodeos in his hometown of Libby, Mont. His father, Charlie, did calf-roping and bull-dogging (steer wrestling) for about 10 years, said Decker, who plans to attend the bull-riding event.
"Bull-riding guys are like the extreme sports in rodeo," he said, and riders study films of the animals. "You want a bull that shows heart - a rank bull - but is predictable. People not only follow the riders, people follow the bulls, too."
Decker said that while eight seconds may seem short, "try to put your hand on a hot stove and count off eight seconds."
In the East, rodeos aren't a big sport, Decker said, but people "like to go see this event that has a little bit of historical context - and on the off chance that somebody's going to get stomped."
The bull-riding shows will be a first for the agriculture center, said Collins, who is looking for other events for its new $5.5 million Danele Shipley Memorial Arena, which opened in July.
"The building is set up for just about anything we wanted to do," he said. "We have 52,000 square feet - one of the biggest arenas in Maryland, after the state fairgrounds - and it's all clear space, no columns. That makes it a perfect building for almost everything from motorcycle racing to bull riding - even an indoor marathon."
Concerts - country music, bluegrass or pop - could be offered "and lots of other things," he said. "We're looking at equestrian events, of course, but also craft shows and fairs, computer shows, lifestyle-home shows, toy train shows."