Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview With a Bullrider

When I met Cabbage and found out he was a retired bullrider, it quckly became obvious to me that he was the real deal.  Lots of guys wear a hat, boots, and a buckle, but they aren't all cowboys.  By the same token, many men claim to ride bulls, but they only "step on one" occasionally, which is very different from rodeoing professionally. 

It's sometimes hard to draw out the details of Cabbage's pro rodeo days.  On most subjects he is an enthusiastic conversationalist, and he's always a great storyteller, but he's leery of straying into the territory of the bar room bragger using bullrides as a pickup line instead of a vocation.

That wasn't the case with my husband.  He rode bulls for a living for many years, and he was damn good at it. 

He wouldn't say it that way, but I can.

It's been a long time since Cabbage last rode a bull, but it remains an enormous part of his identity.  It shaped who he was, who he is, and how he sees the world.  He lived the lifestyle of an extreme athlete, traveled the world, made many friends, and saw the fragile and capricious nature of life.

Many of our friends and most of my family have always been curious about that part of his life, so I asked him about it. 

Interview With a Bullrider
Hi Cabbage.  Thanks for letting me interview you about bullriding.
Anything for you, love.

Let's just start by talking about bullriding as a sport, so everyone is on the same page.
You bet.

What, exactly does bullriding involve?
It's man against beast.  The object is to ride a bull for eight seconds.  If you make the whistle [ride for 8 seconds], your ride will be judged.  Your score is based on your ride, and on the bull's bucking abilities and difficulty to ride.  For example, a change of direction or change in speed will increase the difficulty of the ride and might up your score.

How did you become a bullrider?
My dad rode bulls through the 50s and 60s, and up until the early 70s.  I was a little guy then, and I remember going to rodeos with him although I don't remember much about him riding.  I was always around bullriding.  It's all I could think about when I was little.  I was obsessed with it.

Cabbage's father, my father-in-law

When did you start riding bulls?
I was about six or seven when I got on my first bucking calf at a rodeo.  My second ride, I got knocked out and they had to cart me off in an ambulance.

And your mother didn't make you stop?
No [laughs].  I remember waking up in the ambulance and seeing my aunt and cousin crying.  My mother was sitting next to me, and she didn't know what to do.  I wish she was still alive to tell you the story.

Me too...  So you started off riding calves.  What was the next step?
Then I got on roping steers, which are bigger and older than calves.  Calves weigh about 250-300 pounds, and roping steers weigh 550 pounds and have a set of horns.  By the time I was thirteen years old I was getting on full-grown, fire breathing dragons.  The real deal.

You were just a kid.  Weren't you scared?
Naaaah.  A little nervous, you know.  That never went away.

A young Cabbage (left) hanging out at the bull pens.

When did you get serious about bullriding?  Traveling to rodeos and competing seriously?
In the eighth grade I started traveling with someone a little older than me, even though I couldn't compete.  As soon as I was eligible to compete in high school rodeos, I was there.  I was driving myself to high school rodeos when I only had a learner's permit.

Do you think the statute of limitations is expired on those traffic violations?
I didn't violate any traffic laws.  Other than I didn't have a license.

When did you turn pro?
When I was eighteen.  First I got my permit, which was like an apprenticeship you had to finish before you were a full-fledged professional.  I filled my permit within fourteen rodeos, meaning I won enough money to graduate, so to speak.

How long did you pro rodeo and how many rodeos did you compete in?
The last bull I got on was July 28, 1995, and by then I'd had my professional's card for twelve years.  At the height of my career, I was going to about eighty professional rodeos a year, plus a number of other events like stand-alone bullridings.

What did you like most about bullriding and the lifestyle?
There are some bulls that are like riding in an old bad-suspension Volkswagon, and some that are like riding in a smooth Lincoln Towncar.  When you had a bull that rode good, it was pretty good.  From the time you nod your head, which means you're asking for the gate to open to start your ride, to the time the ride ends and you walk back to the bucking chutes, that adrenalin high... is priceless.  On the other hand, being cramped up, six or eight guys in a vehicle, making a trip to the next rodeo- that wasn't always the best.  Although it made for some great stories.  And I met some great people.  You know, I got to rodeo in Australia and I still keep in touch with some of those people I met over there.

And there were the girls.  Don't tell me there weren't. 

[Laughter from both]

Hey, what can I say... It's the life of a rock star.

So if Beep wanted to date a bullrider in about 20 years???
No.  ...Like the song says, I'll be sitting here, cleaning this gun.

What was the ride you were most proud of?
The bull that I scored the most points on was a bull that belonged to Silver Spurs, and his number was 5.  They called that bull Billy.  I was 89 points on him, and that was when scores didn't seem to be scored as high.  That was in Davie, Florida, and it set an arena record that stood for years.  Davie was my hometown, so that really meant a lot to me.

What is it like to ride a bull?  I mean, what does it feel like?  What happens when they kick the latch open and the bull comes out of the chute?
The only way I know to say it is that some of them ride really good and they're super smooth, and some of them feel like the world's coming to an end.  Some of them buck so hard it's all a blur.  On some of them it seems to last forever, and those eight seconds won't come to an end.  But some of those rides go by so fast.

Do you remember what it physically feels like?
Yeah, if they're bad it's like getting snatched and yanked, and it's miserable.  If they're good, it's like smooth glass.

Not any harder than riding a strong horse?
Way easier.

No wayyyyyy.
Yeah, I'm telling you.

I figured, no matter how good a bull is, it'd still feel like the world was coming to an end.
Shit, no.

Huh.  Learn something new every day.  Want to tell me more another time?
Yeah, sure.

Like when you won the Reno Rodeo and got interviewed for ESPN?
You know you're bringing up a lot of good old memories, don't you? 



  1. Can't wait to hear more!!

  2. Love love love!! Joey, you know you're my hero! You and Lane. :)
    Katie...I freakin' love reading your stories. You rock.


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