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For contractors, raging bull isn't always a successful one

Sights and sounds from the PBR Built Ford Tough Baltimore Invitational at Royal Farms Arena. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

For some stock contractors, watching their bulls graze in the field is like watching a group of schoolchildren.

"You'll see a lot of them make friends among [themselves], and they'll buddy up," said Mark Reed, a stock contractor from Boonsboro. "There's some that they'll all pick on."

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Reed, 41, who will be bringing several of his bulls to the Professional Bull Riders Baltimore Invitational on Friday and Saturday, believes, like most stock contractors, that each bull has its own personality. "I have one now who's just kind of a Scrooge," Reed said. "He doesn't want to be around any of the other bulls. He'll go off in the other corner and lie down, and when I call for feed, he will come eat, but he's the last one there every time."

Not that a bull with a naturally mean temperament necessarily translates to PBR success at Royal Farms Arena this weekend. Reed said it's the "same with being a football player. Do you have to be mean to be a good defensive player? No. But a lot of them are."

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A bull's success, according to Reed, comes instead from a combination of performance and genetics.

While many stock contractors highly value a bull's lineage, Reed focuses on track record first. "I don't care what they look like, how they're built or who their daddy is," Reed said, "as long as they're going to work, as long as they're going to do the job and work hard."

In PBR events, four judges evaluate each bull ride. Each judge can give up to 50 points, with a maximum of 25 for both the rider and bull. The four judges' total is then divided in half for a final score ranging from zero to 100. Riders are scored only if their ride exceeds 8 seconds, and judges look for control when deciding on their point total.

Bull points are based on degree of difficulty. Reed said scores of 20 to 23 are considered impressive for a bull. Receiving a 25 is nearly impossible and shows, essentially, perfection.

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For a bull to reach the level required to qualify for a PBR event is equivalent to a football player making it to the NFL, said Reed, who has been raising bulls for 18 years. "It's just like stepping up from high school to college to professional ranks," he said. "Half of them will make it … for smaller events. As you buck them some more, I'll have a couple of them that are good enough to go to a touring pro event. … There will be very few, one or two, that are good enough to go to the [PBR] event."

Cody Lambert helped found the PBR and is now the organization's director of livestock, responsible for choosing which bulls compete in each event. He focuses on degree of difficulty when making his selections. "The toughest opponents for the best bull riders in the world is what I'm looking for," said Lambert, of Bowie, Texas. "There could be some bulls that are very difficult to ride, but it doesn't show because they're tricky and kind of cheap shots. It's very obvious to the crowd that that bull is difficult to ride. We want the one that jumps high and spins fast."

Stock contractor Sonny Williams of Union Bridge said only the most consistent bulls reach PBR-caliber events. He said a successful bull is "one that you've bucked several times and pretty much has the same trip or does pretty good every time. You don't want to take one that misfires every now and then, because they'll definitely misfire when you take them to a big event."

Williams, 42, has taken bulls to events across the country and faces some prejudice about his Mid-Atlantic background. "Nobody thinks of Maryland as a place where rodeo bulls get raised," he said. "I've even had people say, 'Maryland? Where's that?'"

Yet this weekend's event will mark the eighth time the PBR, considered the world's premier bull-riding league, has come to Baltimore, the first stop on the 2015 schedule.

"All the bulls will be outstanding out there," said Williams, who is not bringing any bulls to the event. "It's the beginning of the year, so everybody will want to get their bulls down there and be seen."

Lambert added: "Baltimore being the very first one of the tour, all the bull riders will be fresh and ready to go and excited about being there."

During the opening two rounds Friday night and Saturday, riders will try to post a qualifying 8-second ride on the bull they're matched with. The 15 riders with the top total scores after two rounds will ride an additional bull in the championship round Saturday night. The rider with the most points at the end of three rounds will be crowned the winner.

Reed is confident going into the event. "I'm taking a really nice set of bulls," he said. "I think there's going to be a couple there that will be round winners. … It depends on how they feel that day and how we match up."

And Reed takes pride in seeing his bulls do well, even the mean ones.

"You watch them from the time you're born. It's almost like they're your kids," he said. "To see them grow and be good at it, it's very rewarding."

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