First year to offer 'original extreme sport' at county fair

The 2014 Saline County Fair Association will be offering something new at this year's fair: The first bull riding competition on Thursday evening, Sept 14.

This event is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Thomas Arena at the fairgrounds.

Mollie Wright, a spokesperson for the fair board, said the bull-riding event will "showcase both novice and experienced riders from all over looking to ride a bull."

"Any bull rider that is interested in participating needs to get in contact with Rose Harris of H & H Rodeo Co. at 501-733-3449 to be eligible to participate in this new and exciting event," Wright said.

"Make sure you tell your favorite local bull rider to give Mrs. Harris a call," she said. "It would be great to have some familiar faces in the mix."

 She noted that the Saline County Fair Association has partnered with H & H Rodeo Co. out of Vilonia to produce this event.

The company was named 2013 Arkansas Rodeo Association Rodeo Producer of the year, Wright said.
"This is a new event this year, and we are excited to keep the admission fee low at $5 per person.  In doing this, we hope to fill the grandstands with lots of bull riding fans."

Wright pointed out that bull riding is "a fierce, rough and grueling sport with roots deeply imbedded in American heritage."

"It's America’s original extreme sport and is one of the fastest growing sports in the country," she said.
She explained what she called the "simple" rules:  "Put a tough, 150-pound cowboy on the back of a bulky, snorting temperamental 2,000-pound bull and see if he can ride the brute for an unending eight seconds … with one hand strapped to the bull’s enormous backside.

 "A qualified ride is eight seconds, and the clock starts when the bull’s shoulder or flank breaks the plane of the gate.  It ends when the rider’s hand comes out of the rope, the rider touches the ground, or the rider’s free arm slaps the bull."

She said a successful ride will earn the rider a score of 0-100, and an exceptional ride is a score of 90 or above. 

The total score possible for a bull ride is 100 points, Wright said.

She noted that half of the total is based on the performance of the bull and how difficult he is to ride.  "The other half of the ride is determined by the rider’s ability to match the bull’s moves beneath him," she said.
Judges look for constant control and good body position throughout the ride, Wright said.  Spurring the bull is not required, she added.

 "It is expensive for a person to take up the sport of bull riding," Wright pointed out.

"First, the rider must have the necessary equipment.  A bull rider’s equipment consists of headgear — either a cowboy hat or helmet."

She noted that a cowboy hat "may act as the barrier that keeps a rider from needing stitches."

For those bull riders seeking added protection, helmets and protective face masks have been devised to shield the vulnerable head area from threatening blows, while the face mask protects both the face and jaw. 

"Oftentimes nowadays, cowboys wear a protective vest that absorbs shock and dissipates the blow to the body, while protecting the torso from threatening punctures caused by direct contact with the bull's hooves and horns," she said.

"The glove is a necessity for the riding hand (the hand that grips the bull rope)," she added. "This leather glove protects a cowboy's hand and fingers. It also makes it easier to hold onto the bull rope. Rosin, which helps the cowboy's glove adhere to the bull rope, is a sticky substance that provides the cowboy with a little extra grip.

"Chaps are part of the armor that adds a layer of protection for the cowboy against a bull's horns and hooves," she said.

She noted that the bull rope is "a flat rope braided from nylon or grass that goes around the bull's girth area behind his front legs. The rope has a handle, constructed partially of leather that is braided into it and serves as the cowboy's only anchor for the duration of his ride."

"The boots the cowboys wear while riding have a special spur ridge on the heel, which helps their spurs to stay in place. Some cowboys wear the traditional pull-on boot, while others prefer those that lace up to fit the foot snugly. 

"Spurs help the cowboy stay in position on a bull," Wright said. "The rowels are dull so they don't injure or cut the skin of the bull. The spurring action displays the level of complete control of the cowboy during the ride."

According to Wright, having the necessary equipment is "just a start."

"There are several ways to get started," she said. "Some people start by riding a mechanical bull, and it works well for them; however, it is truly nothing like riding a real bull."

She noted that there are bull riding schools that offer instruction. "The other way to learn is to make friends with someone in the sport and learn from them. 

"A lot goes into the sport of bull riding," Wright said. "We are so excited to host our first bull riding event this year. We hope that it showcases our local bull riders who are just getting started as well as experienced riders that have been participating a long time. "

She encouraged attendance at the event.

"I know people will enjoy every second of it," she said. 

Wright noted that Sept. 14 also will mark the first night of the annual mutton’ bustin’ for youngsters 6 and under.

"Thursday evening will include this special participation event for children 10 and under," she said. "It will be both fun for the kids and entertaining for all adults in attendance."