Save a Horse, Ride a …

 

Words by Carmen Macri 

 

Yee, and I cannot stress this enough, haw. 

 

The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) made their way back to Jacksonville for the Unleash The Beast competition and boy, was it something special. Much like any other bull riding event, Veterans Memorial Arena was filled to the brim with a sold-out show — a sea of cowboy hats and Mic Ultras for as far as the eye could see. 

 

As Saturday dawned, signaling the second and final day of Unleash the Beast, the riders were primed and ready to showcase their skills, aiming to outdo their performances from the previous night. The anticipation was palpable, with the crowd — myself included — on the edge of our seats, eagerly awaiting the start of the show.

 

Following a (not-so) swift introduction of all 37 riders and four rodeo clowns, the event kicked off with 26-year-old rider Jesse Petri taking on Boomerang for a full 8-second ride giving him 89.5 points. For some context — because I needed it myself — how they rate a rider is based on a few things. The first is if the rider is able to stay atop the bull for the full 8 seconds without touching themselves or the bull with their free hand. The second part of the scoring system is divided into two categories, each worth 50 points. The first category evaluates the rider’s performance and their ability to maintain composure throughout the ride. The second category assesses the bull’s performance. If the bull fails to meet the judges’ expectations in terms of bucking, it may result in a lower score or the rider may be granted a re-ride opportunity. A bull’s ranking usually averages around 43.5 points per ride, so the rest is up to the cowboy.

 

Ok, now back to business. 

 

No one prepared me for what it would be like to be kneeling at eye level with the bulls during this event. I had my fair share of would-be-heart attacks when a rider fell off and mud slung in my face from the bucking bulls. Nonetheless, it was incredible. As we went down the list of cowboys and their trusty steeds, the stakes only grew. I mean, these guys make it look so easy. During the first portion of the event, the Long-Go, it felt like nearly every rider was able to make it the full 8 seconds or damn near it.

 

All eyes were on a particular rider, John Crimber. This teenage sensation has electrified the bull-riding circuit, swiftly ascending the ranks to claim the coveted No. 3 spot in the world (which, as fate would have it, turned into No. 2 after this event). Friday night’s show had Crimber and two other riders, Dalton Kasel and Cody Jesus, tied for first with 87 points — so the heat was on.

 

The spotlight was squarely on Crimber and Kasel as they vied for the top positions of the evening, with Crimber securing first place during the Long-Go with an impressive 87.75 ride, closely followed by Kasel with 84.5. However, the excitement didn’t end there, as the top 12 riders from the Long-Go earned the chance to compete again during the Short-Go. (Clever names, I know). 

 

During the brief intermission, I left my mud-side seats to go find my cowboy-enthusiast father who sat on the opposite side of the arena. I figured he could provide some valuable insights into what lay ahead in the next round. His prediction? “We’re in for some real badass cowboys on some mighty badass bulls.” And indeed, he wasn’t wrong. 

 

In the Short-Go, the arena was electrified by the first 90-point ride of the night, courtesy of the seasoned 39-year-old, João Ricardo Viera. It was nothing short of mesmerizing. With flawless control over his bull, Viera made it seem effortless, shooting him up the ranks to first place on the board and in my heart (I may hold some bias since this is my dad’s favorite cowboy). Sadly though, his time as number one was short-lived because as soon as Crimber entered the ring, it was game over with a 91-point ride. You cannot write a better script. No matter what Doze You Down threw at him, he was prepared. Not once did he falter or look remotely phased. I’ve never seen a cooler 18-year-old in my life. 

 

To no one’s surprise or dismay, Crimber took first place. When he was asked about his win he said “I don’t belong in second place, plus it’s my sister’s birthday, I told her I would win it for her.” I mean, it doesn’t get cooler than that. 

 

But hold onto your hat, because this isn’t your run-of-the-mill bull riding recap. I had the fortunate opportunity to catch up with Conner Halverson, who sits at the 19th spot in the world rankings. Before the event kicked off, he graciously shared the insider’s perspective on the life of a professional bull rider.

 

Carmen: What initially drew you to the sport and how did you get started?

 

Halverson: When I was little, I grew up, you know, watching PBR on TV, and that’s all I ever wanted to do since I was a little kid. So I started when I was really young on sheep and little calves and stuff like that and just progressed every year after that.

 

Carmen: How old would you say you were when you first started?

 

Halverson: When I was getting on sheep, I was probably 5 years old.

 

Carmen: And your first bull? 

 

Halverson: I was probably 13 or 14 when I got my first full-grown bull.

 

Carmen: That’s terrifying … Can you describe the physical and mental preparation required to compete in bull riding at a professional level?

 

Halverson: You know, the physical part of it is you got to keep up with your body and make sure you know, you’re staying healthy so your body can take the wear and tear of every weekend. But the mental side of it, I think, is the biggest part of it. You got to have a strong mental game because this sport has a lot of ups and downs. You kind of just got to learn to shut out the bad times and keep yourself calm in the good times and just, you know, kind of equal everything out because a lot can go wrong in a very short amount of time for this sport.

 

Carmen: What goes through your mind when you’re preparing to mount a bull in the chute?

 

Halverson: Nothing, really. You know, when I’m down on the bull in the chute, everything just kind of gets shut off and I just know what to do in there every week. I just do my job and then muscle memory just takes over.

 

Carmen: What would you say is the most memorable experience you’ve had during your career?

 

Halverson: I would say it was when it when I was able to compete on the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi, they had a bull riding on the ship — on the deck of the ship.

 

Carmen: Was it just the fact that you were on a ship that made it so memorable or is there any one specific thing that had happened that kind of stuck out to you?

 

Halverson: No, it was just the fact that that, you know, you’re on this historic ship riding bulls. You don’t get to do stuff like that very often. So it was just a really cool experience.

 

Carmen: It sounds like it. How do you maintain your focus and composure during the ride? I know you said it’s a little bit of muscle memory, but once you’re actually out there, how do you maintain that composure? Because it looks crazy.

 

Halverson: Yeah. Almost all of that is muscle memory. Like everything gets shut off, you know? You’re just reacting to the bull. You just have to have confidence in yourself that you’re going to stay on and everything else is just muscle memory. When you hear the final buzzer, outside of feeling accomplished, you feel really, really relieved.

 

Carmen: What do you enjoy most about being a bull rider?

 

Halverson: I think it’s mainly being able to travel around and get to go to all these different places while doing something I love and getting paid for it and not really having a job. This is our job, but we don’t look at it like that. Our love for the sport is unmatched by anything else. Being able to be a part of everything that we get to be a part of every week is what we enjoy.

 

Carmen: Outside of competing, what do you do to unwind and relax?

 

Halverson: I’ll go home and go fishing or go hunting or something like that and just to step back and relax.

 

Carmen: Do you ride the same bull every time or is it different?

 

Halverson: No, we go out on a different bull each time. It’s a random draw.

 

Carmen: So you don’t know who you’re riding this weekend? It is just kind of luck of the draw. You don’t have any say in it?

 

Halverson: They have already chosen, I believe. But no, I don’t know. I haven’t looked yet. There are times when you can get on the same bull, but it’s not every time. If you get to the very final round with the top 12 guys at the event, the, depending on how you place them in the previous rounds — say you’re leading it — you get to get your first pick of the bull you want. 

 

Carmen: Oh, OK. So it kind of gives you more of an incentive to rank higher so you can pick the bull you want. 

 

Halverson: Yeah, something like that.

About Carmen Macri

Since a young age, Carmen Macri knew she wanted to be a writer. She started as our student intern and has advanced to Multi-media Journalist/Creative. She graduated from the University of North Florida and quickly found her home with Folio Weekly. She juggles writing, photography and running Folio’s social media accounts.