Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Here We Go

Friends, the PBR Finals begin tonight, and of course we will be in our customary place--parked on the sofa, making notes, yelling at the TV, weeping, rending our hair, gnashing our teeth, and drowning our sorrows, as indicated. Sounds like a great time, doesn't it? Come on over! We will gladly make room for you, serve up party snacks and drinks, and listen to your observations with great interest.

Honestly, this seems like it has been the longest damned season ever, doesn't it? It's just been one damned thing after another, and for the first time in my life, I am actually looking forward to a month or two without all this drama. But I cannot forsake my beloved bulls, or the handful of cowboys I am rooting for.

We plan to post something every day during the finals, although we cannot promise it will be something significant. Do drop by at your convenience!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Memoriam

Last week, we all received the news of the passing of PBR superstar Little Yellow Jacket. It had been a while since I had heard anything about the three-time bull of the year, and I simply imagined he was relaxing in a pasture somewhere between Tom Teague’s place in North Carolina and the Berger Bucking Bulls HQ in Mandan, North Dakota. Lots of stud service, I figured. And I am sure that was true in both locations and beyond via straw sales. So I was taken by surprise when I heard that my old pal from my favorite TV show had crossed over the Great Divide, as we say out here in Montana.

The news took instantly me back to the glassed-in back porch of our house in East Los Angeles. It was a typically overly warm summer evening (we did not have air conditioning), and I was flipping through the cable listings when I ran across Professional Bull Riding. “Bull riding, eh?” I thought, “Could be worth a look.” This was in 2001, and Little Yellow Jacket was just a little shaver, although still plenty formidable. I took to watching bull riding right away. I knew a quite a bit about rodeo, and as the curator of a major collection at one of the world’s greatest museums of Western American culture, I knew ALL about cowboy traditions and cowboyness. It was the bulls that really grabbed me, though. I was, and still am, just fascinated by those amazing, athletic animals.

Inevitably, my lovely Stockyard Queen stepped out onto the porch, most likely with a cold beer in her hand. “Uh, what is this, a rodeo?” she asked. “Professional bull riding! ‘This ain't no RODEO!’” I responded, parroting the proud pronouncement that I had only heard for the first time myself a few minutes before. “Check out this bull action!” And she did. I was surprised that she gravitated to the bulls right away, just as I had, and it was not long after that we were hooked.

There were giants in the land in those days—literally. Blueberry Wine and Mossy Oak Mudslinger, Moody Blues and Dillinger. We loved those bulls and got to know them by their personalities (as well as you can ever know a TV star’s personality). One of those bulls rapidly became our favorite, however: Little Yellow Jacket. We could tell right away that he was something special.

For the two of us, he was the ambassador of the PBR. When we talked to our colleagues at work or to our family or friends about our new obsession with bull riding—and rooting for the bulls—they usually gave us a selection of cock-eyed and skeptical looks. “Bulls? Really? ” “Yes, REALLY!” we told them, “There’s this bull named Little Yellow Jacket and he is so smart, so well trained, that he busts out of the chute, does his job of throwing a cowboy, and then stops dead still right there in the arena and looks straight at the crowd. He’s showing off! He’s clearly saying ‘I’m the big daddy in this house and don’t you forget it!’”

Our friends mostly thought we were crazy, but they did like the stories we continued to tell them about Little Yellow Jacket’s ongoing triumphs. When he won Bull of the Year in 2002, we told everyone, “See, I told you that bull had promise.” One year, one of our friends even made us a Little Yellow Jacket Christmas ornament that we always hang proudly on our tree.

Over the years, we have come to appreciate the amazing feats of the PBR’s human competitors as well. We still miss Justin McKee in the PBR announcer’s chair (remember that guy?), and we are happy that we can say we saw Adriano win this second PBR championship back in 2001.

More than anything else about our 10 years as PBR fans, however, we will always remember Little Yellow Jacket. His crooked horn, his incredible strength, and most of all his endearing sense of style in the arena made him a symbol of everything that is right about Professional Bull Riding. Even now, in 2011, when the Queen and I sit in front of our much-larger TV in the living room of our air-conditioned house in Montana, when we see a particularly spectacular bull performance, there’s a good chance that one of us will be thinking “Yep, that reminds me of that yellow bull from Mandan, good ol’ Little Yellow Jacket.”

Happy trails, Pardner!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm Mad as Hell

Dear friends, in the weeks since Pearl de Veres posted her spot-on analysis of the PBR drug controversy, we have continued to see reports about it that have ranged from thoughtful commentary to outright rumor to completely crazy conspiracy theories that have just about made our heads spin around backward.

Despite the temptation to share the wildest (and naturally, the least trustworthy), however, I want to direct your attention to two pieces that were published in the Stephensville Empire-Tribune. The first, which appeared on August 20, describes the drug-testing process at the Thackerville event. The second, published a week later, discusses the fallout from the discovery that one of the bulls tested positive for steroids there, a full six weeks after PBR officials warned the stock contractors that they would be testing all competing bulls in Thackerville.

I am recommending these two articles to you not only because they are authoritative and comprehensive, but also, and most damning, because we have still not heard one official word in response from the PBR about this frightening mess. Let me repeat that: Not. One. Word. I have been looking at the website almost constantly since this whole thing raised its ugly head, and there has not been one word posted about it. I have even, I am sorry to state, watched PBR Now on the Real F****** Dumb TV network, hoping every week that some fan will slip past the gorgons manning the phones and ask a question, any question, on the subject. Read my lips, people: Not. One. Word.

At this point, the only people we have semi-officially heard from are being quoted in the Stephensville newspaper--the PBR's general counsel, a couple of vets involved in the testing, and Ty Murray, who could hardly get away without being questioned because he lives in the same town. None of that is a substitute for a straightforward statement from the PBR brass.

All of this is leading me toward a conclusion I am loathe to reach, one that pisses me off more than just about anything else I can think of. I really do not want to believe that the men who are running the PBR are a bunch of arrogant dudes who really believe all they have to do is lay down the law, and people will stop thinking and talking about this mess. I've got news for you boys--it ain't gonna happen.

The fans of the PBR do not work for the PBR--in fact, we could make a pretty convincing case that the PBR should be working for the fans if it wants to keep them. The people who run the PBR are not our fathers, or our husbands, and they are for damned sure not our bosses. They can't expect us to do what they tell us to just because they apparently think they are gods and we will quail for fear of being struck dead if we question their authority. We don't have to believe that they have our best interests at heart.

In fact, this ridiculous silence only suggests the opposite--they are hiding some even bigger atrocity than we have thus far supposed, or they are covering somebody's ass (possibly several somebodies, possibly several very big somebodies), or worst of all, they are trying to save their own bacon. None of these possibilities bodes well for the sport.

One article on the subject is still to come from the Stephensville Empire-Tribune. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but it's obvious that’s the only place I can turn for factual information and analysis of the subject. I invite you all to stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mixed Feelings

Friends, I am back, finally, to tell you a little bit about the Stanley Tools and Security Invitational presented by Cooper Tires. Yes, I’ve been remiss, but I hope, given the very important report that the Divine Pearl de Veres posted last week, that you can cut me a little slack on my tardiness. I did not want to post anything before we got that one up, and as I observed before, it took us a while to pin down the information to the point where we felt comfortable (although not happy) about talking about the issue.

Still, you can no doubt appreciate that I went to Billings with mixed feelings. We had a great time there, and weren’t there nearly long enough—over on Saturday and back Sunday after the event—but I felt like a nasty black cloud was hanging over me the entire trip, and that cloud was the idea that someone was drugging bulls. This notion is making me question my love for this sport.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed the trip a lot. Like any event, it had high and low points, and since I am occasionally accused of having nothing good to say, I think I will mix it up a little bit. So here we go:

Plus 1
The Rimrock Arena.
A little over a year ago, a tornado (tiny by Midwestern standards) tore the roof off the old arena. They actually had to delay the Billings event for a few months—it’s usually in April—so they could get the building finished, but The Stockyard Queen deems it worth the wait. (Even though it meant that the event happened during the hottest part of the year—a sweltering 90 degrees, with a whopping 15 % humidity! No, I will not be going to Thackerville, or even to an indoor event in Tulsa or San Antone in the middle of the summer. I moved 2,000 miles to get away from that kind of weather, and I won’t be going back to spend my vacation in it for anybody or anything, not even the PBR.)

To begin with, attendees now walk from the parking lot down a nice civilized ramp rather than down the Four Staircases of Death with a few thousand other fans pushing and shoving and stepping on their heels. The arena is bright and clean and cheerful, and the steps down to the seats are wider and not nearly as steep as they used to be. This is a mercy, because we always seem to arrive just as the lights go out and the praying starts. For years, I have had an abiding fear of falling headfirst down the steps in the dark and taking an entire section with me to our rewards. (“I can see it now,” Pearl opined. "‘Dear Lord, we ask you to protect our...’ ‘AAAAAAARGH!’ Half the crowd perishes, but your Adriano boots look awesome while you’re taking them out.”) Fortunately for all involved, a Queen wearing Adriano boots with Cuban heels can now get to her seat without killing anybody or spilling her beer.

The acoustics in the arena are infinitely improved, and our seats were just terrific. We sprang for the most expensive ones, and they were worth every single penny. We were one section up from floor level, about halfway down, and maybe 15 feet out in front of the chutes, so we could see everything, whether we wanted to or not.

And for once, we were not in the middle of Skank City, although on Sunday afternoon we did see a pair of prospective (prospecting?) buckle bunnies get kicked out of the seats about four rows down from us, where they apparently had sneaked in on the premise that the folks who bought the seats wouldn’t show up. Sorry, girls! Instead, we sat on Saturday between two nice couples, and on Sunday next to a rancher from Glendive. (“You came quite a ways,” I said to him. “Not really,” he said. “It’s only about 75 miles farther than you came.” For those not familiar with driving customs in Montana, that means he drove about 15 minutes longer than we did.)

Minus 1 and 2
Running late.
Honestly, folks, in our everyday lives, Montana Barn Cat and I are NEVER late, so it’s a mystery to me why we can’t seem to get out of Dodge and over to Billings in any kind of decent order once a year. First off, one of us actually had to work on Saturday morning, and the other took full advantage of the situation to sleep in later than s/he should have. Next, we had to race around getting ready for the dog sitter, since we quake in our Adriano boots at the thought that she may become so disgusted by our slovenly ways someday that she will decline to sit for these crazy mutts ever again, and just forget it. Then, about the time we got past Livingston on I-90, one of us discovered that s/he had forgotten his/her wallet, which meant we had to turn back to get it. To make a long and discouraging story short, we got into Billings about four hours later than we’d planned to, and then one of us misread the starting time on the tickets, with the result that we got there almost half an hour after the event started on Saturday.

Which wasn’t, in hindsight, all bad—we missed out on the praying and the militaristic rhapsodizing and the swearing-in ceremony, and you all know how I feel about that stuff. Speaking of which . . . .

The swearing-in ceremony on Sunday. As you know, I always grit my teeth through this, because I think it adds an unseemly carnival-like atmosphere to a very serious undertaking. I suppose that Major Whosis, who marched the recruits into the arena on Sunday, meant well, but when he prefaced administering the oath with a homily about the troops who had been killed the day before in that chopper crash in Afghanistan by saying, “I guarantee you that all of these young people—”

Folks, my heart nearly stopped. I was absolutely sure he was going to say “are going to get shot” or “will die in the service of their country” or some equally encouraging thing. Fortunately, he managed to pull back from that dire perch and get on with the show, but if I had been one of those kids standing in formation in front of him, I would have run screaming for the exit.

Plus 2
Dinner with friends at Bin 119.
I highly recommend this restaurant—they have a brief but imaginative menu, a wonderful wine list, and a beautiful, soothing dining room. It didn’t hurt that our waiter looked a lot like Ryan Dirteater, either. I tipped him accordingly.

Minus 3
You Shook Me All Night Long.
Speaking of war, I am declaring same on this hideous piece of ’80s tripe. I cannot for the life of me figure out how the PBR can bill itself as family entertainment and then let Flint dance and prance to this tacky piece of crap. If I took a kid to a PBR event, and that kid asked me what “She told me to come but I was already there” meant, you can take it to the bank that I would be dialing up Mr. Rassmussen and making him explain it to said kid. And believe me—if I had to, I could find him.

Plus 3
The Crowne Plaza.
I really cannot explain why I am so enthralled with this hotel—it’s certainly not the San Francisco Ritz Carlton. But it’s always quiet (no mean feat with a few hundred cowboys and fans running around loose in it), the rooms are beautiful, the bed linens are sumptuous, and the view from the 15th floor to the south, toward Wyoming, is one of the most spectacular city/landscapes I’ve ever seen. And I have seen several, believe me, in way bigger, more exotic places. Add to that the extraordinarily helpful staff and the cozy little lobby bar, where you can sit at the back and see all the bull riders, stock contractors, and TV types you ever wanted to see (and some you didn’t) within shouting distance, and you’ve got a pretty much perfect experience. Even if, as Montana Barn Cat observed, the drinks are so expensive that you feel like you’re buying rounds at the airport. (At one point, I texted Kris DiLorenzo, advising her that I was sitting behind her favorite commentator and asking if she wanted me to go spill a drink on him. Fortunately for both of us, she didn’t reply in time for me to take appropriate action. We’re good friends, but I doubt that she would have bailed me out.)

Plus 4
Having breakfast on Sunday with friends who drove 240 miles for that express purpose.
This is Montana, folks, where people routinely drive 300 miles to buy groceries, eat in a restaurant, and go to a dance. It’s all in a day’s work out here.

Minus 4—and possibly 5 and 6
The bulls.
Given that I was already anxious about the possibility that some of the animal athletes were being drugged, you can imagine how happy I was to discover that the bull pen, to put it mildly, sucked. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe some bulls who otherwise would have been there had been pulled from competition because their owners couldn’t get them clean enough fast enough to get past the drug testing. And since I’m only in this for the bulls, you can doubtless tell where this may be leading.

Plus 5
Getting away for a day.
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and get out of town to really relax. It’s tough duty, but I will not shirk it.

The Weird and the Unfortunate
Where is everybody?
We arrived late to the event on Saturday and still snagged a prime parking spot, and furthermore got out the parking lot in a record 20 minutes afterward, because—you guessed it--there were hundreds, possibly thousands, of empty seats. The lower levels were mostly occupied, but the upper ones were mostly vacant. This does not look good, folks.

Speaking of the parking lot: To the jerk who was pissing in said parking lot after the event--maybe if “The Battle of New Orleans” hadn’t been blasting out of the open doors of your jacked-up Dodge Ram, your bad behavior might have gone unnoticed. Yes, I am the woman who deliberately drove around your truck in a big circle, giving you the stink eye the whole time. If looks could kill, you’d be dead now.

To Mr. Chad Berger: Please get rid of that red pseudo bowling shirt you were wearing in the bar on Saturday night. Trust me--it was not a good look on you.

Seeing one of the riders who was in a decent position in the standings in a bar at noon on Sunday, drinking a shot and a beer.
We didn’t stay long enough to see if he had another, but he did fall off both bulls later that afternoon, so I don’t think self-medication helped him any.

Seeing a prostitute in the bar on Saturday night. The buckle bunnies were out in force, but the difference was unmistakable. I didn’t see any transactions taking place, but I did wonder whether when the PBR comes to town, all kinds of businesses benefit? (“The mind boggles,” sez Pearl.)

Plus 6
Meeting Valdiron de Oliveria in the hotel lobby.
Oh, I already talked about this, didn’t I? I guess you figured out that it was the high point of the trip. I’m going to have to hang onto that memory for a while, for my own good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Something's Rotten in the State of Colorado?

This is a topic that is both touchy and one that has understandably not received much coverage, and I have waffled on what, if anything, to say about it; hard facts are in short supply, rumors are rampant, and the fall-out has very unpleasant possible ramifications. I am going to avoid the rumors and innuendo as much as possible, but this is a topic that is central to the continuance of our sport.

What is indisputable is that in 2007/2008, the PBR brass loudly trumpeted their new drug testing committee, and proceeded to test bulls over the season for performance enhancing drugs. This historic testing all yielded negative results. Whether this testing continued in any significant way is unclear, but there certainly was a lot less PR about it. Then came Pueblo in 2011.

I will defer to Don and Janelle Kish here, who have posted a letter on their website regarding this matter. And I quote:

As a PRCA and a PBR Stock Contractor and an ABBI Share holder and past president I am embarrassed of the recent findings from the drug testing during the PBR/ABBI Pueblo, Colorado event.

Money and notoriety has led some to a “new way of thinking” they have no regard for the safety, well being and future of the animal athlete. To think a person will cheat or try to win at any cost is alarming to say the least. That makes it a sad time to be a Stock Contractor...

We are very disappointed with the individuals that have enabled the drug use, with no regard for the time, money, effort and wisdom put towards the Bucking Bull Industry.

(See the full letter linked on the page here.)

I will also defer to the UBBI, which has unveiled a new rules in response to the unfolding drama:
UBBI Headquarters (June 15, 2011)–Due to recent developments within the bucking bull competition industry regarding the suspected use of drugs, substances and other agents believed to enhance the performance of bucking bulls, the United Bucking Bulls, Inc has added specific policy and enforcement guidelines to it’s 2011 Rule Book.

(See the full press release here).

To say that this is alarming is an understatement, for any number of reasons. I guess it was naive for any of us to expect that this could never happen, even if the "cowboy way" is supposed to be above cheating. As with any sport in which money is involved and one part of the equation is an animal who can't speak out, someone, somewhere will find a way to take shortcuts, no matter the potential harm to the animal or the industry at large. (This is why we have thoroughbreds who run very fast and have exceptionally poor feet, and the sad racking horses that have been "sored" to get a gross, exaggerated parody of what their natural gait should be.) I don't think that this is a model that any true fan of bull riding would like to see the sport follow. There are of course legitimate veterinarian-recommended reasons to use steroids and other drugs classified as "performance enhancing" on animals, but if any of the rumors are remotely true, the scale means this was not solely legitimate veterinarian-endorsed, health-related use.

The potential harm to the bucking bulls is obvious. To drug a bull into performing beyond its natural capabilities is a short-term strategy at best. And for all those dedicated to improving the genetics of bucking bulls, this can only be seen as a nightmare. Not only are there potential fertility issues with animals who have been doped regularly, there is also the issue that perhaps some of the bulls people chose to use in their breeding programs simply would not have made the cut if performance enhancing drugs had not been used. Now, obviously drugs can't make any bull into a top bull, but for any contractor trying to find the magic blend of genetics to get a good set of bulls, having to worry that a bull might have poor reproductive qualities and not be as great as advertised without performance enhancing drugs? Let the headaches begin.

Part of the reason this has been kept so quiet, I suspect, is of course that the "no publicity is bad publicity" creed doesn't pan out here. This is, quite simply, terribly bad from every possible angle. It is simply appalling that some stock contractors would basically hand extreme activists the ammunition that has the potential to take them, and the entire sport, down. And if that thought is frightening, just consider what could happen if the USDA/FDA became involved. As far as I am aware, these federal bodies make absolutely no distinction between "rodeo" cattle and food cattle. Non-food-grade drugs making their way into the food stream is a gigantic potential problem that could have far-ranging and unpleasant implications.

The testing apparently is continuing, so we will see what this means (will some bulls disappear, or buck/appear differently than before?). But it is just all so monumentally stupid, it blows my mind. I don't know if the PBR dropped the ball on testing, but it seems clear that some contractors decided to take shortcuts. Once one person starts cheating and winning, there is more incentive for others to start cheating to attempt to level the playing field. We have seen this play out in other sports, and it is horrifying to see it start in ours. Drugs are layered upon drugs to fool the testing, and each time the testing is updated, the drugs are updated. I hope the PBR manages to police this in a fair way that protects the stock contractors who want to do things the right way, and of course the bulls, who are half the equation of our sport and should be treated exceptionally well. If not, we, and the sport at large, are in big trouble.

Something is indeed rotten in the state of Colorado. Let us hope that sanity will prevail, for the sake of the bulls, contractors, cowboys, and fans of this sport.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Stockyard Queen at the NILE

Friends, I have much to tell you about this past weekend's festivities, but before I dive off into much longer (and doubtless occasionally tedious) posts, I just have to tell you this:

The ONLY reason Valdiron won the event was because I shook his hand at the hotel on Saturday. Of course, Montana Barn Cat insists that it's because HE shook Valdiron's hand, but I'm sure he's wrong about that. I mean, I'm magic, right? Nobody in his right mind would deny that.

And we managed it with our customary smoothness--we walked into the lobby, Montana Barn Cat looked right and saw Adriano and I looked left and saw Valdiron, I stopped dead in my tracks, and the Barn Cat plowed right into me. It wasn't quite the Keystone Kops--we didn't fall flat on our faces--but I'm sure that all witnesses were prepared to swear that we were drunk. We were not.

And Valdiron was very, very kind to us when we rushed up to congratulate him on his success thus far. I am really hoping that he continues his winning ways and takes the championship. He will make a fine ambassador for the sport.

That night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I reflected that it was worth everything I've gone through with this blog, all the hassle and expense of traveling to the events, all the anguish and yelling at the tv, all the Jack Daniels and dry martinis consumed in fear and loathing, to have seen the event that evening and to meet that man and shake his hand. I am so glad the bulls and boys are back in town.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

If I Ran the PBR . . . . Publicists Needed!

Dear friends, please join me in perusing the Divine Shannon's observations about how the PBR could do a better job of promoting the sport. I look forward to your observations on the subject!

Publicists Needed!

My friend Sonja first mentioned that she was shocked at the riders’ lack of promotion. Once we started talking about it, the ideas started rolling. Keeping in mind that you have to spend money to make money, here are just a few of the things I’d do with the riders if I were in charge.

First: Hire some publicists to work specifically with the riders. They might start by looking at the following areas.


There are many TV programs that the riders and the PBR can be promoted on. Two I was thinking of are 20/20 and Who Do You Think You Are? For the former, why not try to sell a story not just on bull riding, but also on stock contractors and the riders from other countries? I picture it this way:

*Ten minutes on Mesa Pate and Chad Berger
*Ten minutes on the riders
*Ten minutes on the riders from other countries (especially the Brazilians)
*Ten minutes on the PBR itself (the inception, rules, treatment of bulls, etc.)
For the latter, how interesting would it be to see one of the riders’ family trees (especially Ryan Dirteater)?

Next, I’d go to People Magazine Special Editions: “Sexiest Man Alive,” “World’s Most Eligible Bachelors,” or “50 Most Beautiful People.” There are plenty of riders in the Top 40 that People could consider.


If Adriano Moraes is sponsored by Ariat, then why don’t he and his wife design a line of men’s and women’s cowboy boots with Adriano’s signature on it or his initials stitched into it somewhere? Many riders are sponsored by Wrangler. What about a line of Wrangler jeans or shirts with their names on it? They could also help design the clothing. Then, at the events, these riders could sign autographs next to racks of their clothing for sale. For every sale of clothing or pair of boots, the rider would get a percentage of the sale.

All of these items could include a small card with the rider’s info/websites and PBR info/websites.


Photgraphs! Some of the guys who work on ranches could have a photographer come take some gorgeous shots of them around the area, then have them sign the prints and frame them or make some into posters and calendars and then sell them at the events when they are signing.

Finally, there are the riders like Shane Procter who, with his wife Jesse’s help, make chaps and leather accessories for horses. When he’s signing autographs at a local store (and you can bet that here in Anaheim, I’d have him at the Broken Horn (, he could have a sign up sheet to win a free accessory. Then there would be mass emails to all the participants with all of his and the PBR’s websites. Same with Josh Kochel and spurs.

Rider Images

Finally, a brief note about those images I’ve griped about over the years. A good publicist will work out an image for a rider and identify things for him to do and not do within that image. The publicist would monitor all online social media and, if one of his/her clients steps out of line, damage control would start.

Two Final Notes

The PBR in general could use a lot more advertising. I suggest this.

1. Promotions on local radio stations and local TV stations. With 40 riders in the BFTS, as well as Craig Hummer, J. W. Hart, Justin McBride, Ty Murray, and some increasingly well-known stock contractors, there are more than enough guys to do the rounds in every city.

2. More merchandise! What about yearly calendars? I don’t believe I’ve seen any in Target or Barnes and Noble. And how about any of the appropriate stores in the general areas where the events are held? There’s a sports section in Walmart and Target where they can sell sports accessories and t-shirts with riders/bulls/PBR logos on them. Where is this stuff?

Basically, what this comes down to is this: There is no reason why these guys shouldn’t be making more money. If the PBR wants a bigger audience, helping to promote the riders could be a good way to start.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If I Ran the PBR . . . .

Welcome, gentle readers, to the first in a series under the umbrella subject, “If I Ran the PBR.” I have invited several of my longtime contributors to write about this, and I expect we are going to get an earful about a very diverse group of topics.

In the past few days, as some of you no doubt already know, some very, very bad stuff has begun to emerge about practices in the PBR, but I am going to leave that alone for just a bit, till some of the smoke clears and we can get some hard facts about the situation. In the meantime, we will go on with our previously planned offerings, subject to change without notice and at my whim, naturally.

Since I am the Queen of this Stockyard, I cannot of course be outdone right out of the chute, so I staked my claim at the outset. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my magnum opus (thus far): If I Ran the PBR, I Would Dump the Small-town Rodeo Crap.

I hasten to say that I don’t mean I would no longer have the Touring Pro Division swanning around to small venues, or that I would not be looking for new talent on the rodeo circuit (small town or otherwise). Not all of fans are fortunate enough to be able to get to a BFTS event, so Mohammad must go to the mountain.

What I mean specifically (and I can already hear the outraged cries of the less enlightened starting to roil the air) is that I would eliminate all the artifacts that the PBR imported, willy-nilly, into its events straight from rodeo held at the Podunk County Fair. Here’s why: The PBR will never be a world-class, international sport till it starts looking more like other international sports—that is to say, sports that recognize and embrace an international audience.

First up: I would do away with the public prayer before ALL PBR events, BFTS or Touring Pro or what have you. The world is not made up of Christians only, let alone of fundamentalist, right-wing, Southern Christians, and it’s way past time that the PBR accepted this. There is no public prayer before National Football League games, or National Basketball Association games, or National Hockey League games. The PBR would be wise to follow those examples. (There is, naturally, public prayer before NASCAR races, but NASCAR can by no stretch of the imagination be considered an “international” sport. There are NO sanctioned NASCAR events outside the boundaries of the United States and, indeed, none anywhere except in the South. Case closed.)

As a matter of fact, I would ban ALL religious observances at PBR events, including the Cowboy Church and Riding High Ministries. If you folks want to proselytize, you’re free to believe that’s your calling, but if I were in charge, you’d be doing it on your own time and not on the PBR’s dime.

And while I’m on the subject: The condition of my soul is none of your damned business. Nothing to see here, move on.

Next, I would deep-six the xenophobic declarations that “We live in the greatest country in the world” and the overt militarism. I am fine with playing and/or singing the national anthem before the event starts. Everybody does that, everywhere. Hell, at NHL games between U.S. and Canadian teams, BOTH national anthems are played. Maybe we should also be playing the Brazilian, Australian, Canadian, and Mexican national anthems, just to acknowledge the contributions of participants from places other than the United States.

But I would most definitely NOT have “The Star-Spangled Banner” serving as a backdrop for film of F-18s soaring over the mountaintops, nor would I march a bunch of new recruits in and have them take their oath in front of the crowd. That kind of mawkish jingoism creates a circus-like atmosphere that demeans the seriousness of the commitment those people are making. I would put a stop to it, yesterday.

No doubt about it—we do have the biggest, most expensive military in the world, bought and paid for with a budget that is ten times larger than that of the country in second place (which happens to be Great Britain). But if we are going to take the PBR international, we would do well, as our distinguished Commander in Chief said recently, to not spike the football.

Next, I would do away with the official second-class treatment of women. On my watch, there would be no leather-clad Jack Daniels girls or Copenhagen girls (and don’t even get me started on how out of line the PBR is in endorsing the use of tobacco in any form) and no Las Vegas showgirls, not even in Las Vegas. If I were in charge of small-town rodeo, women would be competing in rough-stock events and there would be NO demeaning, girly competitions like goat tying and barrel racing. It’s time for the PBR to move into the 21st century and act like it really cares that roughly half of its fans are female.

Next, I would ban all political speech, regardless of which side it endorses. That means Justin McKee would not be making jokes about Nancy Pelosi, or anybody else, for that matter. If you want to attract an international audience, you have to recognize that some of them aren’t Tea Baggers, and it will do you no good to stand on either side of the political fence.

Finally, I would ban ALL hateful public speech, and since I am a generous sort, my definition of “hateful” would be considerably broader than most people’s. The bottom line is that nobody formally affiliated with the PBR—not board members, employees, announcers, entertainers, bull riders, bull fighters, pick-up men, roadies, or grounds crew—would ever again say anything hateful or demeaning about any group. Never on my watch would any cowboy, World Champion or not, stand up on camera and say he was embarrassed to have ridden “like a girl,” nor would there be one mean word spoken about any ethnic group, women, or gays. Anybody who broke this rule would be reprimanded and fined—painfully—on first offense. If it happened again, he would be thrown out of the PBR for life.

And when all these changes are completed, and my utopian bull-riding kingdom has arisen anew from the ashes of its ancestry, only one form of violence will be tolerated — the violent interplay between rider and bull, under the bright lights, down on the dirt, where it belongs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All the Bull from Duluth, Georgia

Ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly indebted to the divine Black Boots, who attended the PBR event in Duluth and sent me this stellar report and pictures. Enjoy!

It’s always nice to have the bulls in for a visit. And yes, there was this football player who thought he might take Deja Blu out for a lil’ test drive, but more about that later.

On the second night of the event, E and M (my bull-riding buddies) and I took the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. I was surprised at the carte blanche we were given to clamber around on the equipment, as LONG AS WE DIDN’T TAKE ANY PICTURES IN THE DRESSING ROOM. Which was actually kind of funny, because as soon as our group showed up at the dressing room door, all the riders scattered like rabbits through the other exits—and we were left with the fencing, ropes ,and gear bags you’re all familiar with from the broadcasts. But we got to go up and down stairs and walk out onto the arena dirt (good old red Georgia clay and sand, thank you very much.)

The first piece of equipment I chose to clamber around in was the infamous Truth Booth. It’s not a booth—it’s a backdrop. As you can see in the picture, it’s pretty stark. The monitor where they watch the ride is at a weird downward angle, so I guess that’s why all we see are the tops of the cowboy hats of so many Truth Booth occupants. It’s also entirely voluntary, which made me wonder why a rider who has just been unceremoniously dumped chooses to further expose his pain in the Truth Booth. I know some of the segments are pretty painful to me.

This is the monitor for the boom camera. The top screen is live (yes, that’s Craig Hummer in the broadcast booth), and the bottom screen is the upcoming segment (this one was Ochocinco’s crash course from the morning). I wish the boom camera operator had been around, because I’d love to find out how they choose shots-and how that thing works.

And this shot of the dormant silver Flaming Bull Heads O’ Death convinced me that someday, somehow, I must save my pennies and see this show from the chute seats.

But the highlight of the tour was the moment we got to stand behind the chutes, where the riders wait for their moment of glory (or, you know, NOT) and turn and see the ocean of bull-dom directly behind us. This is the closest I’ve ever been to PBR BFTS-caliber bulls, and all I could do was grin like a kid and marvel at their size, the way their muscles moved across their shoulders, and how they huddled together in seemingly choreographed movements. I got close enough to Perfect Poison to call out to him and he listened, ears a’swiveling. He stepped close enough for me to reach out and touch him. I had to jam my hands in my pockets to resist the impulse. That was, without a doubt, one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had as a PBR fan.

After the final portion of the tour (“Here’s some fencing! Here’s some boxes!”) we got to the meet and greet part:

Guilherme is always so nice.

My *squee* moment: Robson Palermo has the best skin of any human being I’ve ever seen.

Dusty Ephrom just got a new fan.

Mike Lee never spoke. He signed his name and added the words “Follow Jesus.” I wanted to ask him, “Where’d He go?”

We always get tons of rank bulls. I make notes on the day sheets, and the bulls that got stars were a clone named I’m Back, Muddy Chicken, Range War, Houchie (love the Houdini bull names!), Black Cuervo, Immigrant, and the ever-handsome King Lopez. In the broadcast, they didn’t show rookie rider Matt Triplett do a backflip off the top rail à la Renato after riding his first PBR bull.

During the first 40 rides on Saturday, Mr. Ochocinco was perched in the chute seats with a posse, and Ty Murray was in his ear the entire time. Even from our seats, we could tell he was ashen, trying to concentrate in that way athletes do before they perform but unable to get the fear that gripped him completely off his game face. I’d seen him the night before, when he huddled with Ty in front of us to watch Deja Blu buck off Josh Faircloth. At intermission, the mob of media swarmed after him, then back into the arena, where we waited--and waited--for the network feed. The cowboys gathered en masse behind the chutes with their cameras and cellphones, and that was a lot of fun to see--kind of a family portrait of the PBR. The music got loud, Cody Lambert pulled rope, and none of the judges dared squeak a word of discouragement.

And in 1.5 seconds, it was over. And he didn’t get bucked off so much as just dumped off. I was impressed with how swiftly he ran once he got to his feet, but wondered why he went to the arena gate instead of the chute gate (did Ty not tell him the bull would be headed that way, too?) Sadly, the best picture I got of Mr. Ochocinco was on the beeg screen (my little point and shoot wasn’t fast enough to catch the buck-off action), and he was nothing but gracious in his praise for the riders and the bullfighters.

It was a good weekend, and the memories should hold me until the series cranks back up again.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Low Can We Go?

I'm sure we can all recall the judging fiascoes of the past, and how we were reassured that judges would go to clinics, things would change. Well, unless the clinics consist of, "How to give bonus points to all-American dudes on the fly," and "Toss a coin to decide when hipping equals a re-ride," they don't seem to be helping. Between the total lack of clarity regarding what's a re-ride and what isn't, and of course the inconsistent scoring, frankly, it's becoming somewhat embarrassing to be a fan of this sport. That's not even getting into the infamous Lima DQ incident, and believe me, I could rant about that one for days.

But lest I get off on a days-long tangent, let's go back to Albuquerque, a place where the scoring was very, um, interesting. Stockyard Queen, Montana Barn Cat and I attended this event with several people who could be described as casual fans. They had never attended a live event and knew nothing about the current cowboys or past judging issues. Somewhere in the midst of Flight 3 on Saturday, one of these relative newcomers turned to us old hands and said, "So, I think I see how this works. If you are Brazilian, you get several fewer points for no real reason?" How frustrating, how infuriating, to have to say, "Well, er, essentially.... yes."

While the scoring has been up and down all season, unfortunately, there have been multiple weekends this year marred by extremely poor judging. Now some of this can perhaps be explained by the good old "flash" argument. I am reluctant to name specific cowboys because they don't control the scoring, but someone please tell me how L.J. Jenkins has more flash than Silvano Alves, or Ryan McConnel has more flash than Fabiano Vieira? I get it with the King of Flash, Chris Shivers, or J.B. Mauney at his best, but most riders really don't have that much magical razzle-dazzle that can explain the difference. And some of the time it is just inexplicable -- if someone flashy is running way behind the bull and having to throw repeated hail marys to get back into position, why is that worth more points that someone who sits in the middle in control and spurs to show further control? How is it that someone whose bull gives up at 6.8 seconds gets a higher score than someone whose bull gives his all for 8? How is it that riding an "unrideable" bull gives one a lower score than riding one of the "money bulls" that guys should ride? How is it that two nearly exact "hipping" incidents leads to one re-ride and one without a re-ride option? Unfortunately, the common denominator often happens to be that the guy getting a little something extra is from the good ole USA, and the one getting shorted a few points is from Brazil.

I'm not sure the slanted judging is conscious or deliberate, although there are times when one judge is lagging so far behind the others in posting a score that it is pretty suspicious. I suspect some of it is unconscious and goes back to the fact that there are a lot of great riders from Brazil right now, and they are very dedicated and very talented and simply outclassing most of the American riders. This is a state of affairs that some may not welcome -- the U.S. is the top tier of bull-riding, and suddenly, the Americans are having trouble holding their own. Sure, there have been great Brazilian riders in the past, but not this many of them performing at the top level all at once. I highly suspect this is causing consternation up top, and judging by some horrible comments on the internet, within parts of the fan base as well. The PBR may protest, "We don't mind if Brazilians win again and again, REALLY, we don't," but I'd like more show, and a lot less tell.

Are some judges feeling the pressure of the "Brazilian domination" and consciously or unconsciously responding? It raises the question: is anyone reviewing the stats and trends on the scoring by each judge, in order to keep them honest? I would like to think that this is the case, but since the PBR doesn't even see fit to tell us the judges' names, I have my doubts. I just cannot understand why the continuing judging problems do not appear to have been addressed in any meaningful way -- suspending one judge and making the judges wear uniforms is fine, but when this is not followed by making any apparent changes to the system that gave rise to the problems in the first place... this is just appeasement to the fans and is solving absolutely nothing. The PBR has had ample time to address the judging inconsistencies, but outwardly, it doesn't really appear that they have done anything substantive.

So, in an effort to add some positive ideas to my negative post, here's a few suggestions for the PBR:

1. Reveal to the fans who the judges are. I can think of very few professional sports where the judges are anonymous. So far, the only judges I know by name are ones who have been disciplined or were in the middle of a controversial call where their faces were on television. This does not give a feeling of confidence.

2. Have a greater rotation of judges. This way, if there are biases on the part of some judges, unconscious or otherwise, they will have less impact.

3. Have a time limit for when the score must be submitted. Display all the scores at once, after the last one has been submitted. Do not allow changes to scores unless there was an obvious typographical error in entry. This will make it a lot less sketchy if a score must be changed after the fact, and will avoid the scenarios where a judge scores far after the others.

4. Have some sort of review process and tracking of scoring to uncover any issues. Judges are human and they will make mistakes and have unconscious biases. However, the PBR should have a system to know about any issues, if they don't already, so they can take action and make the judging as fair as possible.

5. Stop changing the rules randomly in the midst of the season, or, at the very least, explain clearly when this is happening and why this is happening. (As in, "guess what a slap means now?," and "hipping is only hipping when we want it to be.")

Yes, judges will make mistakes. Judges will blow calls. But when you shroud not only the judges but how they make their calls in mystery, it can't be a surprise when fans are uncertain about the fairness of it all. If this sport is going to turn into one where the golden boy(s) of the moment get gifts (points and re-rides) in order to keep the Great White Hope alive, I'm not interested. If the PBR really wants to be able to crown an American for sure, they should institute an "American Champion," the highest scoring American at the World Finals, as Australia and Canada do for their natives at their finals, regardless of who gets the most points overall. At least this would be consistent within the PBR, and with a guaranteed American champ, maybe that would calm some of the people who just can't stand that the Brazilians are staying on more bulls than the Americans.

That aside, the PBR is not the WWF. I don't tune in to see a "story." I don't care if the New Mexico natives win in New Mexico, if the top 10 is all guys from Brazil or all guys from America, or if an old champion comes back to win again, or if a Touring Pro invitee takes the place by storm. I am fine with any of those things or none of those happening, as long as whatever happens, happens fairly. I care that each guy is getting the best shot possible, and that the best guy at each event is winning. When it seems like this is systematically not taking place, my interest in the sport begins to wane.

PBR, you keep telling us that you are a serious sport. Well, then, give us irreproachable judging that we can understand, judged by named individuals who are on a rotation and are held to a professional standard, and attend professional refreshers and training on a regular basis, and tell and show us that this is taking place; then we will take you seriously. A sport that wants legitimacy needs judging integrity that is clear to participants, fans, and the casual viewer. You can add all the theme songs, slo-mo and "WIRED" moments you want, but if the judging is suspect, the "flash" isn't going to distract for long. Your choice, PBR. I hope you make the right one and do so loud and clear. Soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

You Haven't Lived Until . . .

Yes, it's been a scandalously long time since we were in Albuquerque, and none of us has stepped up adequately to discuss all the goings-on there, but I just have to share this with you.

A bunch of us trailed over to Dan's Boots and Saddles on Saturday afternoon before the event. After I finished handing over millions of dollars for a new pair of Adriano Moraes-endorsed Ariat boots, I spied our gay bull-rider friend checking out the helmets. I sashayed over there just in time to hear the salesclerk ask her where she rode.

"On the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit," my friend said.

The salesclerk rocked back on her heels and looked my friend over. After a long pause, she said, "I guess we don't have that here."

Believe me, child, it's your loss. I'd rather watch wild horse drag race than barrel racing any day of the week. If you're thinking of competing, though, be warned: Open-toed shoes are verboten.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Live Blogging the Last Cowboy Standing--Round Three

Flint is leading a Journey singalong. I wish he'd take the midnight train going anywhere.

Aaron Roy bucks off Titanium Tough and takes a shot to the head as he wheels off over the bull's head.
Pistol Robinson gets SLAMMED back into the chute by Black Pearl. Bull starts bucking as soon as the gate comes open and throws Robinson almost instantly.
Sean Willingham bucks off Slim's Ghost at 7.93--really did look like he was going to ride him. Willingham challenges it. Hummer says Willingham had the tail of the rope in his hand at eight seconds, but the judges do not give him a score.

LUKE SNYDER BECOMES THE LAST COWBOY STANDING IN HIS 300TH EVENT!!!!! He's not my fave, but he earned this one. My hat is off to the man. He wins $210,500.

Here's Jim Haworth, the CEO of the PBR--but frankly, I will skip that part. Now Luke is standing with Haworth and the two showgirls--the cameraman zooms in so close on one of their butts that I can see how fine her fishnets are. A fitting end to the broadcast, I must say.

Oh, just one last tidbit, which some of us have been anticipating: Hummer says, "Pay Per View looks to be the wave of the future." You heard it here first.

Live Blogging the Last Cowboy Standing--Intermission and Round Two

Here is Justin McBride a-sangin'. He's got a big mess of chopped-off strings going every which way up on the neck of his guitar. Justin, for future reference, you can cut those strings off short for special occasions, like if you're going to be on TV.

For back-up he has a fiddle player and another guy on guitar--I guess that mob he hired for the Finals has deserted him. Sez Montana Barn Cat: That guy sucks.

This is PAINFUL. What fool told this guy he can sing?

And now we present, for only the 99th time this season, Ty Murray's Bull Riding Basics. The only worse thing is the crap that Flint has been putting out into the stratosphere. Pearl, if you're there--you saw Flint's same show in Albuquerque, believe me.

Here we go.
Alves bucks off Hank, big time.
Fabiano Viera bucks off Spitfire.
Kasey Hayes bucks off Jawbreaker--huge jumps.
Ben Jones bucks off Yellow Jacket Jr.--11 buck offs in a row for this bull.
Reese Cates rides Smackdown for 6.43 seconds--then bucks off. Seventh straight buck-offs for this bull.
Caleb Sanderson bucks off Perfect Poison. Sanderson challenges, but no reride.
Douglas Duncan bucks off White Magic at 7.71 seconds. I have NEVER seen White Magic so rank. Bucked him off finally and then took a run at the bull fighters.
Valdiron de Olivera gets manhandled by Stubby.
LUKE SNYDER RIDES BRAVEHEART for 90.5. Gets his bell rung when he hits the ground, but he has a score.
Kody Lostroh gets slammed by Big Tex, but gets a reride--and I'm sorry to say, I have to agree. Bull clearly fouled himself coming out of the chute.

Now I'm really in a jam--I have thought for years that Snyder should quit, since he stays on the BFTS by dropping down to the Touring Pro tour. And you all know how I feel about Lostroh.

Lostroh's reride bull is Sue. Uh-huh.

Guilherme Marchi bucks off Little Hummer at 2.45 seconds.
David Kennedy gets helicoptered off The Situation. Probably the fastest bull we've seen tonight.
Colby Yates bucks off High Octane Hurricane at 5.93.
Aaron Roy rides Paycheck, so now we have two riders in round three. 85.25.
Pistol Robinson rides Hee Bee Gee Bee for 90.5. Way overscored, but it's a score Says Ty: "Now we have a horse race, Craig."
Sean Willingham rides Priceless for 90.75. Scoring is out of control now.
Lostroh's reride--SUE BUCKS HIM OFF at 7.25!!!!!!

Shorty predicted that four would move on--this is scary.

Leah's with the four contenders. Pistol is thinking of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Willingham credits lake boarding with improving his bull riding and clearing his mind. Snyder says they are all on a roll. Roy says he knows the bulls in the next round pretty good.

It's MCKEE back for the draw. He's now got a total of maybe 12 MINUTES of airtime on this event!

Shorty says two guys will ride in the third round.

Live Blogging the Last Cowboy Standing--Round One Continues

Going to have to try something different--going too fast to report each one. Qualified rides in round one:

Luke Snyder 88
Silvano Alves 87.75 on Wrangler National Patriot--astonishingly great ride.
Kody Lostroh 87.25
Colby Yates 87.25
Kasey Hayes 86.25
Valdiron de Olivia rode Rico for 86.25--he was off more than he was on, but he rode.
David Kennedy 86
Aaron Roy 86
Sean Willingham 86
Ben Jones 85.5
Pistol Robinson 85.25
Guilherme Marchi 85.25-honestly, I thought he was off a dozen times. An amazing ride! Bull was RMEF Bugle.
Fabiano Viera 84.75
Reese Cates 84
Caleb Sanderson 83.5
Douglas Duncan 83.25

FINALLY--here's special guest McKee! Hummer says, "You're like our Bob Costas--you only show up for the big events!"

He's hosting the Lucas Oil Deep Clean Playback. His entire contribution so far--FOUR MINUTES!!!!!

On to the draw.

Live Blogging the Last Cowboy Standing--Round One, Opening and Flight One

Good evening, folks! We are going to start out by blogging about each flight in turn. Once the first round is over, it's anybody's guess.

First up: a bad version of Viva Las Vegas! Now here's Flint. I notice they haven't shown us the crowd yet. Country hick voice-over dude is ON TV--and that ain't good.

Now we're praying.

Now--Las Vegas showgirls are up on the shark cage, showing us their navels! If you are prone to migraine, this is not the place to be right now.

They're introducing the cowboys, who are walking up ramps on the shark cage between the showgirls. Most of them are obviously trying not to look left or right till they're past the nearly nekkid ladies.

The Cirque du Soleil Singers are singing the national anthem. Better than a lot of renditions I've sat through--or it was for a while.

Hummer and Ty are talking, and we can finally see the crowd--I'd estimate it's just a little more than half full.

The hair is standing up on on JW's arms!

And here we go!

Dustin Elliot rides Touch of Class, but bull stumbles--Elliot gets a reride.
Douglas Duncan rides Go To Guy.
Ben Jones is on Gin and Tonic--reaches down at 7.19 and pulls his rope. No score. He challenges because he says, "Fuck! The fucking bell went off!"
Ty Pozzobon bucks off Bible Belt.
Paulo Lima bucks of a big red bull--they can't be bothered to tell us who the bull is.
Ryan McConnell bucks off Spartacus.
David Kennedy rides Zip Code--a big, dirty, slow bull.
Cord McCoy bucks off Secretary of Soul.
Fabiano Vierra rides No Guts.

And we have a ruling on Ben Jones! He gets a score. Leah asked Jim Bob Custer about it--he says that Ben heard a whistle and pulled his wrap. Custer says that no one in the arena heard the whistle, but the guys in the production truck DID hear it. So--Jones advances!

Elliot Jacoby falls off his bull, which is unfortunate because he would have gotten a reride.

So we have four who rode in the first flight.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Taking One for the Team

Folks, I write to inform you that after all our shucking and jiving, we WILL be watching Last Cowboy Standing tomorrow and, as an added bonus, sort-of live blogging it, most likely on the Zonkboard. The way this came about is fairly embarrassing because it shows just how wishy-washy we can be in our resolve sometimes, but then, we never claimed to be paragons of consistency. Around here, we're more of the Walt Whitman frame of mind: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then." We will leave the high moral ground to certain of our readers who KNOW that all issues are black and white.

The short version of the story is that Montana Barn Cat was supposed to be away this weekend, so of course The Stockyard Queen had planned to spend both days lying on the sofa, eating bonbons, drinking tequila neat, and watching Sex and the City 2 and reruns of shows that give MBC the bends. Alas, his trip got canceled, and he REALLY wants to see LCS. So, being the fairminded sort that I am, I blackmailed him--I agreed to shell out the $30 IF he helps me live blog. Amazingly, he agreed.

You heard it here first, folks. Tune in tomorrow night for the debut of that maniac blogger, Montana Barn Cat, reporting live from The Stockyard!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Albuquerque -- The Ambiance

Every year, it seems like the commentators on the TV talk in hushed, reverent tones about how The Pit is "like no other venue." Assuming that this was like all the other overblown commentator-speak that we hear at each event, I couldn't really appreciate that what they were saying for once lived up to the hype... until I was there in person, staring down the seemingly endless stairs heading into the depths of The Pit.

Let's just say that going to bull riding at The Pit is almost like going to an event in a giant funnel, or perhaps being seated in the midst of Dante's Inferno (only way more appealing and with hopefully a few fewer sinners being tortured), with bull riding at the bottom instead of the final circle. (See helpful illustration by Botticelli.) Although at times it did sound as if one were in a funnel (or possibly the Inferno), with crowd noise ricocheting around with nowhere to go to be dampened, this somehow only added to the excitement that pervaded the venue.

The seats are set in a very steep, tiered fashion, which comes decidedly in handy when at least half the audience is likely to be wearing cowboy hats that can impede the view. The actual floor of the arena is relatively small, necessitating the shark cage to be placed on one side of the arena next to the crowd, and for there to be only four chutes on one side, which, combined with the fact that no matter where you are sitting, you feel as if you are on top of the action, lends a strange intimacy to the proceedings.

The unique layout of the venue also apparently limited the usual over-the-top pyro, as the flaming bull heads sadly did not make an appearance here, and the "PBR" flaming letters were a bit odd, with a loop around the front. To balance out the incalculable loss, most of the audience should have been able to see things they can't always at other venues, being basically stacked up above the chutes no matter where they were seated: the bulls milling around in their pens, and a nice view of the bulls and the cowboys in their "natural pre-ride habitat." The one big drawback of the venue became clear when watching the cowboys have to make the long trek up and down the many, many stairs, their only entrance and egress, which the audience only had to attempt a few times.

Incidentally, one side bonus of this venue is that it has great lighting, which is not a given at any bull riding event. Besides making it a generally nicer viewing experience overall, it also ups the chances of getting any decent photographs. Which, as you can probably guess, is an interest of mine.

Ty Murray clearly loves this event with his name on it, and it was nice to see him on the dirt rhapsodizing about it. He may not be a natural commentator, but he can be a charming guy. It was also nice to see the Native American invitees -- while they may not have done very well this year, the crowd definitely made noise for them and they seemed ecstatic and grateful to be there. Another unexpected and somewhat unlikely return was Tony Mendes, a blast from the past who came out with his breast cancer awareness chaps and made a case for returning to the tour once again after his heyday in the early 2000s.

If the crowd went crazy for the Native American riders, it was nothing compared to the arena-shaking roar that went up for the New Mexico natives, Ryan McConnel and L.J. Jenkins. I find Ryan McConnel kind of endearing with his devil-may-care approach and crazy sense of style, and there's something a bit bashful about L.J. Jenkins that is appealing, so seeing them react to the approval of the crowd was a bit touching, even for those of us who found the scoring for this even to be a bit... convenient. (I'm sure Stockyard Queen and/or I will have a whole rant on this in a future post.)

Stockyard Queen has already waxed poetic about the overwhelming bull power of the event, so I won't go over that ground again, but how could I talk about the ambiance of this event without talking about "the moment" of the event -- the moment that Valdiron de Oliveira chose Bushwacker in the draft. This thick, expectant silence fell over the audience once Valdiron spoke; there were almost visible thought bubbles over many a cowboy hat, "Wait, did he just say that?!" Say that he did, when he had a decent selection of much more rideable bulls from which to choose. And as it sank in, suddenly, as one, the crowd let out something that was half gasp, half yell, building up into a huge cry of approval that nearly brought a tear to this cynic's eye.

It was one of those "goosebump moments," and I will try my hardest to hold on to that moment whenever I read some ignoramus going on about how "the Brazilians" (because they apparently operate as a unit) always choose "the easy bulls" (because, apparently, some short go bulls are always easy) and that's why "they" are winning, or whatever nonsense. And of course Valdiron de Oliveira can't win here, because those who scorn "the Brazilians" for choosing "the easy bulls" can now rejoice that he bucked off Bushwacker (even though obviously he is far from the only one to do so) and conveniently ignore the fact that he chose the rankest bull in the pen. But, whatever the ignoramuses may say, he had the confidence to make the pick, he seemed to be doing it strategically to try to make up some points, so I for one salute him for the effort.

There was something about that moment and the reaction of the crowd that was a little unreal, a little magical -- this strange little arena makes it seem like anything can happen. I may have my doubts about the direction the PBR is taking, I may have had my doubts about the scoring at this event, but overall this event made me feel like we were back in the glory days. Let's hope I can recapture that feeling in the face of the increasingly obvious judging shenanigans of the events since.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why I'm Here for the Duration

Let’s face it, folks—it’s been one tough season for devout PBR fans. We’ve seen sudden, inexplicable, and completely unexplained changes to the broadcast, the addition of a ridiculous short-go at the end of each round that basically just guarantees that any rider who is on a (even momentary) tear will move from front runner to unstoppable, and apparent changes in the leadership of the PBR—I say “apparent,” because despite multiple reports of such goings-on, we have yet to hear one word from the organization itself about whether Jeffrey Pollack is still working in Pueblo. We’ve seen changes to the live events that range from amusing to excruciating, while of course the crap that NEEDS to be changed is piously being preserved, like dead bugs in amber. Since the first crack out of the box back in January, it’s just been one damned thing after another.

Consequently, Montana Barn Cat and I debated long and hard about whether we were, in fact, going to venture to Albuquerque for the Ty Murray Invitational at the end of March. What finally convinced us to go was 1) we had made the arrangements months ago, and of course not one, but BOTH of us, would have had to suffer traumatic amputation of all four limbs (and possibly our heads, too) before the airline would consider refunding our money, and 2) we have good friends there, and had invited yet more good friends to join us there, and we are not ones to miss a party, particularly not when we promised we’d throw it.

After many high jinks and dubious adventures, our crew (Pearl de Vere, Montana Barn Cat, a gay bullrider from San Francisco and her escort, two friends who had yet to be inducted into the mysteries of bull riding, and myself) all gathered on Saturday at our hotel, from whence the very cute shuttle driver (my BFF Elisabeth would have dubbed him a “cocktail frank” on the spot) trundled us down to The Pit. Even though he was driving a minivan, it still took two trips. We reassembled at our seats just before the lights went out and the WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! IF YOU ARE PRONE TO SEIZURES, GET THE HELL OF HERE THIS MINUTE BEFORE WE START SHOOTING OFF FIREWORKS AND FLASHING LIGHTS! crap commenced.

But finally the foolishness was over, and the bulls started bucking, and I was, as my drama queen friend Sandy used to say, in my glory. The bulls were absolutely at their best all weekend long. I don’t see much point in rehashing the rides verbatim when the illustrious Pearl has kindly offered to share with me what she modestly calls her Buck-off Gallery, and we all know how loudly a picture speaks. Some of these photos are from Saturday night and some are from Sunday afternoon, when she, Montana Barn Cat, and I (the diehards) returned for our second helping, but I have no shame—I will cheerfully mix them all together and revel in every dusty second of it.

You all know that I certainly don’t want to see any cowboy get hurt, but I most certainly want to see ALL of them hit the dirt, so the short round on Sunday was pretty much heaven for me. Ten up, ten down—I can't recall ever having seen that, but I am grateful I got to see it once, live and in person.

Weren’t they just irresistible, those long-horned, short-horned, muley, black, white, black-and-white, brown, red, and speckled babies? Weren’t they just poetry in motion—Flip Side, Wild and Out, Lincoln Electric’s Bring It, I’m a Gangster, Palm Springs and Too Tall and Slim’s Ghost and all his brother clones?

The one who epitomized my ongoing love affair with the sport, though, had to be Insaniac. He’s a 1,500-pound five-year old bull who’s been on the tour for two years now. His riding percentage is too high for my taste—66.7%—and on Friday night, Ryan McConnell had ridden him for 87.50 points. But apparently somebody forgot to send him the memo about how he was all washed up, because on Saturday night he promptly threw Anderson Viana Alemcar for a loop, and then took a victory lap around the arena, lifting up his feet, tossing his head, snorting and pawing the dirt, daring anyone to tell him he wasn’t the rankest bull in the pen.

That, right there, is why I’m here: the bulls just keep getting better, and the best of them never doubt for one second that they belong in the big leagues. They don’t get star-struck and fall to their knees before Bushwhacker’s pen. They pay no mind to bright lights and loud noises. They don’t waste one second thinking about whether the cowboys on their backs are newcomers or world champions. They are there to put the cowboys on the ground, and they glory in every leaping, belly-rolling, high-kicking second of it. The new ones are as brash and confident as the seasoned ones, and there is no shortage of new ones waiting in the wings. As long as the bulls keep showing up and bringing it, so will I.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

S. in Fresno

Our intrepid reporter S. has journeyed to the land of Fresno, and has brought back the following report and photos for our enjoyment!

I have to say, against all past experience with Fresno, outside of the Finals, Fresno has now become my favorite event to attend live. This year was even more interesting in the interpersonal arena, since the hotel we stayed last year and stuck with this year was suddenly the host hotel.

Unfortunately, this hotel seems to have a problem with getting rooms done on time and this has not changed in the intervening year. When I attempted to check in at 3:00, the lady at the desk said, "Well, check-in is at 3:00, so your room is not yet ready." What? Anyway, we ended up waiting quite some time, which would have been incredibly annoying, except: see the previous statement about this being the host hotel. So as we forlornly sat in the breakfast room, our luggage strewn about us, we were entertained by the comings and goings of various folks, including:
  • Brandon Bates, who has a snazzy hand-tooled belt with his name on it.
  • A limping J.B. Mauney, on a quest for a fork.
  • Shane Proctor in work-out gear.
  • Cody Nance, pre-neckerchief, with his apparent newbie under wing, Corey Bailey.
  • Shorty Gorham, who was very excited about some magazine.
  • Keith Ryan Cartwright, bustling to somewhere.
  • Ben Jones' dad.
  • Much of the Brazilian contingent, including Valdiron de Oliveira, Elton Cide, Paulo Lima and Silvano Alves.
After an hour of being amused in this manner, we could finally check in and then had a brief window of time to get ready before heading off to the SaveMart center in our scheduled hotel shuttle. Unfortunately, some shuttle-stealing cowboys thwarted us, leaping into the shuttle and zooming away as we stood in a cloud of exhaust and confusion. We were more amused than anything, since those guys have to be at the arena much more urgently than we do, plus we ended up meeting a neat older couple that we would run into again and again over the weekend -- I really enjoyed meeting them and they helped me gain some perspective after I narrowly avoided launching myself in incoherent rage at some fans expressing their, um, views on the Brazilians.

As we did not have tickets for the first night, we bought some cheap seats at the arena, which actually turned out to be pretty decent. As TeamPBR members, we were allowed into a mini meet and great, which featured Paulo Lima, Fabiano Vieira, Silvano Alves, Douglas Ferreira, Valdiron de Oliveira, Ben Jones and Chris Shivers. The newer Brazilian qualifiers really impressed me, as mingling with people you can't really communicate with has to be a bit daunting, but they were extremely pleasant and appreciative of the fans. Ferreira even did some joking around, and joking around has to be pretty hard when you don't have much of the language. My camera settings, pre-loaded for bull riding, were sadly not terribly cooperative with the opportunity.

As far as the introduction to the even itself, I was happy to see the return of the flaming bull heads. I had missed them. There seems to be an excess of pyro now, though, and the ridiculous voice-over lady and man and "Get Off on the Pain" are apparently inescapable. I also had to laugh at the "Warning! Warning!" with the red flashing lights that tells you to flee if you don't want to see the pyro, etc. Really? So cheesy.

We had Trace Adkins singing the anthem, which, well, this is the first time I have heard the anthem sung in the bass range. Trace Adkins also had a running gag of threatening to beat Flint up in the parking lot after the event-- no idea what that was about. Flint now does 1980s sing-alongs-- be warned. Things get awkward when the crowd doesn't know the lyrics to "Don't Stop Believin'," let me tell you.

I'm sure you've all seen the event so I won't go in too much detail on that, but in the immortal words of Charlie Sheen, the bulls were, "Duh -- winning!" In contrast to the usual state of affairs in the other NorCal event, Sacramento, the bull pen was really strong, and there were very few re-rides. The bulls were doing so well that for awhile that I thought there wouldn't be 10 rides to fill up the new short go, but we ended up with 11 qualifying scores.

Now, not to get too off topic here, and you all know that I love Valdiron de Oliveira, but this format is pretty much tailor-made for him and it makes things pretty lopsided. His riding percentage is insane, and if you give him a chance to have another bull run under him, more often than not, you are giving him another score. And in this case, he was the only one to score in the new short go, meaning he had a huge advantage over the rest of the field (which was fine with me and I'm sure with him), but it seems like this new short go is really changing the way the season will go. We shall see how it plays out, but I'm suspecting that short of injury, the way it is going to go is Valdiron winning handily, with Renato Nunes, Robson Palermo, Shane Proctor, Austin Meier and a few others doing their best to stay in it.

After the event, there was an on-the-dirt signing, which I found a bit weird. I enjoyed being on the arena floor, but sadly, not all fans have manners. The cowboys were trying to sign things for us and for people on the railing; it was kind of chaotic. My mission was to get Shane Proctor a copy of the drawing I had done, and to get him to sign one for me, and at least that was successful. And Renato, complete with a big grin, remembered me as the one who did the drawing for him, so there was also that. Doing the drawings is something I enjoy for the process itself, but getting nice feedback doesn't hurt, either.

Anyway, we exited into a cold downpour, which would come back to haunt us in the morning. We rose early in order to attend the bull housing tour, which I was incredibly excited about. Unfortunately, we got a call from the front desk saying that the event was canceled as the rain had made the grounds too sloppy. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement, although obviously I understand the liability and safety issues. I really hope that I can catch one of these in the future, because of all the things going on in Fresno, this was the one I was anticipating the most.

Having been denied the bulls, we headed down for breakfast, where, if you will excuse me, I will use a quote from the movie Spaceballs to illustrate a point: "So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph.... because good is dumb."* Let's just say that several of the Brazilian contingent were at a table, looking clean-shaven, neat and pressed, eating what appeared to be balanced breakfasts. They looked well-rested and were chatting cheerfully with fans. In the meantime, several cowboys from countries other than Brazil stumbled down, looking disheveled and rumpled, and started digging into biscuits and gravy while staring blearily around the room with jaundiced eyes. Now I'm not saying that it isn't fine for guys to come out to ride to make enough money to have a good time touring and partying with their buddies, but when they are going up against people who treat this as a serious profession, I really think that says most of what there is to say about the Brazilian dominance of the PBR. There may be a few non-Brazilians that are taking the same approach they are, and some with enough talent that they don't need that approach, but overall, I think the Brazilians have a plan and they are executing it with aplomb.

Tiring of cheese pizza, we took a break from the world of the PBR to get some sushi, and then it was back to the SaveMart. Team PBR, it turns out, had arranged something new and different for us. Besides another mini meet and greet, they had set aside a room where the BullStock Media folks, the saviors of many a time the Live Event Center has been down, had set up a photo studio of sorts. You could go in and get your photo taken with Chris Shivers, Cody Campbell and Aaron Roy, and then they would print it out for you with their super-duper printer, all in a matter of moments. Kind of nifty and definitely appreciated, even if it did end up looking kind of like a photo Christmas card, with less Christmas tree and more cowboys.

As to the event, to revisit a comment from Chris Shivers last season, is it time to breed a better cowboy? We were pretty scarce on rides, and outside of Renato's triumphant outing in the short go, there was nothing going on for the cowboys there. The bulls are getting better and better, and the cowboys are seeming outclassed. The odds are against the cowboys anyway, and now with these professional and organized breeding programs, the odds are not getting any better. For bull fans, that's fine, but it will be interesting to see how the fans of the cowboys react as there are fewer and fewer rides. Oh, and one thing to look out for when you are at a live event -- Shorty talking to himself. Obviously he's talking to the broadcast, but it's kind of funny to see him during a moment of down-time, waving his hands around and talking to the air. I like hearing from the guy, but I hope this double duty doesn't pull him too many ways.

Other things that might not have made the broadcast: Curveball exited the chute alone, leaving Paulo Lima clinging to the back of the chute. There was lots of yelling and gesturing, and it was determined that Paulo hadn't called for the gate. How does this happen? Between the malfunctioning timer and this kind of thing, it doesn't give one a lot of faith in the professionalism of the sport. Nor does the fact that the commentators can't figure out how to pronounce Silvano Alves' name. Of the range of names in the PBR, Silvano is really not one of the tougher ones, guys. Come on, now.

Although, one moment of judging did impress me. We were seated by the replay judge (not sure who it was, as I don't know many of the judges by sight), and Fabiano Vieira had hit the replay button on the time for his ride on Get Off. The in-arena announcers had said that it was declared a buckoff, but no one who spoke Portuguese apparently told Fabiano, because he was standing around in confusion for what seemed to be quite some time. The replay judge finally gestured to him to come over, showed him the replay on his screen, and showed him the timer along with the ride on the screen, all in a clear, calm and patient manner. I have to say that I was favorably struck by the way this was handled.

Another moment that impressed me was Robson Palermo taking the hat off of his head to lend it to Renato Nunes, whose hat was in the midst of being trampled by RMEF Gunpowder & Lead. There's something wonderful about the comradeship that all the riders have, but the Brazilians seem to have a special bond, and that was just a sweet little moment. I guess it helped, too, since Renato rocked it out for 92 points, and capped it off with some strange little victory breakdance. Valdiron didn't ride in the short go but finished off the evening with a win based on the strength of his earlier performance. That is, unless you are Erin Coscarelli, in which case, Renato won. Okay, Erin, one is 5'9" tall and 165 pounds, and is the current world number one. The other one is 5'7" and 135 pounds, and is the reigning world champion. They don't look remotely similar. How embarrassing. Back to you, Craig.

One random story for you: we caught the shuttle back to the hotel, and as we were heading off, the driver got a call to pick up some people across the street. As we pulled up in front of the place, the driver started heading around the back so as to not be in the middle of the road. As we started to round the corner, there was a blur of white cowboy hat in the logo-covered shuttle window and a loud, startling banging on the side of the van. My friend yelled out, "Cowboys, stop! Stop!" Our driver screeched to a halt and opened the door to reveal Cody Nance, Corey Bailey and a friend. Upon finding out that the driver really was going to stop for them, there was quite a lot of laughter as they realized that they didn't need to charge a moving vehicle. In the words of Cody Nance, "We made a memory!" We also had an interesting discussion about the insurance, or lack thereof, that the riders have, and discovered that Cody Nance is an old-fashioned gentleman who offers his hand to ladies getting out of shuttles. I would have expected nothing less of our favorite neckerchief-sporting cowboy, but it's good to know first-hand.

Anyway, a great two evenings of bull riding, rank bulls, nice fans, gritty cowboys and interesting interactions. Here's to hopefully doing it all again next year, however it is this year turns out!

*Disclaimer: take the Spaceballs quote as seriously as anyone should take any part of the movie Spaceballs. Which is to say, not at all.