1,800 pounds of bull.
140 pounds of cowboy.
That’s the math for today’s bull-riding championship event at the Breckenridge PRCA Rodeo. While the rodeo has featured bull riding every weekend since its start in June, this event will feature the country’s top riding professionals atop the best bulls in the business.
The championship event was specifically timed in order to fall before the Championship Bull Riding world finals in Cheyenne, Wyo., catching many of the professionals while they’re in the area.
“We timed this stop so they could stop here and have a chance to win in Breckenridge on their way up to Cheyenne,” said Brad Bays, event promoter for the rodeo.
The bulls have come in from 11 different states. They are top stock and each one costs upwards of $100,000.
“They’re superstars in their own right,” Bays said, “and just to be able to see them is pretty neat.”
Like the riders, the bulls have their own set of judges, professionals who travel to rodeos all over the country specifically to judge bulls. Evaluation categories include intensity, kick, spin and drop, Bays said. The best three bulls from today’s event will win $15,000.
“We’ve seen a big demand for bull riding and of course we do that every weekend, but we only do a total of around 10 bulls in our PRCA rodeos,” said Bays, “so this brings in a lot more bulls, a lot higher prizes and just more entertainment for the crowd.”
In addition to riding, today’s event will pit bull against clown. It’s a contest of speed, smarts and agility for both human and animal. After loosing the bulls into the arena, the clowns will dash around with them, gaining points for each feat, such as touching a bull on the head, spinning a bull in a circle or even jumping over one.
“If he times it right, he can clear the whole bull,” Bays said.
For the fun of it
The riding event will feature a total of 56 bull riders competing for a $7,600 first-place prize. Fifty-one of them are professional rodeo performers; the other five are local Summit County residents who are doing it not for money or fame but simply for fun.
One of the locals is A.J. Pestello, 20, of Breckenridge. He started riding bulls during high school and has jumped at every opportunity since, from practice pens to rodeos. Getting the chance to test his mettle against prime bulls has him excited.
A rider quickly gauges the quality of the bull he’s on, Pestello said. “When he comes out of the chute, … you’ll know on his first jump if he’s going to come out kicking and jumping high or if he’s going to be flat and run around low to the ground.”
Pestello repeats his mantra — “mind in the middle” — in the final seconds as he’s waiting on top of the bull in the chute. While he admits to feeling nervous in the week leading up to an event, once he gets to the arena, “I’m calm and ready to go.”
Rules require each bull rider stay on top of his bull for a full eight seconds. While this might not seem like much to someone sitting in the stands, for those on top of the bull it feels a lot longer.
“It’s an eternity on the back,” Pestello said.
Fellow local bull rider Alan Mikkelsen agreed. “Eight seconds is a long time,” he said, drawing out the “long.”
Still, for someone like Mikkelsen, from Pass Creek Ranch in Silverthorne, who’s in the saddle at least half the day, bull riding is a great way to blow off some steam. The 30-year-old has been riding bulls since he was 17.
“I took an eight-year break and, for some reason, I just couldn’t get it out of me and I started riding again last summer,” he said, referring to Breck’s inaugural rodeo.
While Mikkelsen won’t be competing professionally or for the prize money, that doesn’t mean he’ll be taking his rides any less seriously.
“Every time you tie into a bull, you’re trying to make it the best ride of your life,” he said.
Both Pestello and Mikkelsen said that the adrenaline rush is what keeps them coming back for more.
“For me, the challenge of trying to go stride-for-stride with something — and not break its spirit but still hang with it — the adrenaline rush you get from it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” Mikkelsen said. “Bull riding is a sport of its own.”
Full weekend of events
The championship bull riding kicks off yet another weekend of Breckenridge PRCA Pro Rodeo events, from mutton busting and calf scramble for kids up to professional barrel racing and roping and wrestling events.
Those showing up at 4:30 on either of the three days can seize the opportunity for a free “Behind the Chutes” tour. Spectators can get a glimpse of the rodeo behind the scenes, see the bulls and horses and learn about all the aspects that make up a rodeo.
“It’s just going to be good entertainment for the whole family,” Bays said.
“For me, the challenge of trying to go stride-for-stride with something — and not break its spirit but still hang with it — the adrenaline rush you get from it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”