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By: Wayne Brown
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we thank you for coming out tonight and supporting these fine young cowboys and cowgirls here in this Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association event. This historic event is held each year at this time here in Calgary, Alberta at the foot of the beautiful Canadian Rockies. The Calgary Stampede is a one of a kind event and the producers, promoters and performers hope that you have enjoyed your experience with us tonight. Please come back and witness the final events of this great competition tomorrow night. We will top it all off with the grand finale of the bull-riding competition. Thank you and good evening ” roared the voice of the rodeo announcer over the public address system as those attending began to gather their things and head to their cars. The rodeo was over for another night for this year’s competition. Tomorrow night would decide who takes home the money.
“Okay, gents, crowd around me hear and listen up” said the rodeo official as he gathered the bull-riding participants about him for instructions on the final round. “As you know, tomorrow night is the finals competition. If you are among the top 20 riders who qualified for tomorrow night’s short round final, then you need to hang with me here and we will draw bulls for your ride tomorrow night. For the rest of you, we appreciate you coming out, you are more than welcome to stay and view the competition and we wish you the best in your future endeavors.” He continued. “Now let’s get the top 20 up here and get this bull draw over with so we can get some sleep.”
Chase Hatcher was leaning against a corral post listening to the official. He gathered himself up and moved toward him now in anticipation of drawing a good bull for the next round. He crossed his fingers and entered the group who good-naturedly pushing and tugging at each other in an attempt to draw early and up the odds for themselves. Chase tried to work his way through and get his chance. Finally, the hat leaned his way and he grabbed for a slip of paper. He stepped back from the crowd and quickly opened his draw. “Bushwhacker!” He read. He quickly sat down on a nearby hay bail and contemplated this turn of events.
No doubt he had drawn a good bull in terms of the bull’s own ability to attract points from the judges. Bushwhacker was a killer bull that few had stayed on for any length of time and most just prayed they never had to ride. He stood almost shoulder on a man at his front legs. He weighed in at 2,000 lbs. He was not the heaviest bull on the circuit but he was up there and it was all muscle. The sons-a-bitch was just naturally mean as well. It appeared that enjoyed the sport of rodeo and that frequent opportunity to get a rider in the dirt and maul him into unconsciousness or worse. Yeah, he was a good bull all right. The question here was Chase a good enough rider to stay on him and earn the money. “Well” Chase says to no one in particular, “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” as he dusted his jeans with his gloved hand and readjusted his hat. Time to head back to hotel and get some rest.
“Which one ya get, Hatcher?” came the voice from behind him. Tim Shanks was walking behind him headed for his ride back to the hotel. Chase and Shanks had flip-flopped all this year on the point board in a friendly competition to see who could stay on top and win it all. This rodeo and one more down in Las Vegas and the world would soon know thought Chase.
“I pulled Bushwhacker” Chase replied and kept walking holding his braided bull-rope over his right shoulder. “How about you?” Chase asked.
“Q-P Doll” Shanks shoot back. “Damn the luck, they could use that bull to ride kids on at a Saturday birthday party” He quickly added.
“Well, at least you’ll probably be alive when the horn sounds, Tim. Maybe you should try wearing a coat and tie so that you can impress the judges with your own sense of style” Chase laughed nervously still thinking about the bull he would be riding.
“You go hell, Hatcher. I’ll see ya after while, okay” Shanks shot back.
“You got it, Tim” Chase replied glad to be headed for the room.
Chase threw the last bucket of ice he had hauled from the ice machine into his hotel room bathtub. Now came the fun part. He would get undressed and crawl into this ice bath and sit a spell. Bull-riding had a way of causing the groin to swell to an ungodly size after a couple of days strapped over those bare backs. The ice and cold helped to suppress the swelling and it reduced the bruising a bit as well. There were times when he looked all right but his ass and groin had the appearance as being victims of a head-on collision. He would sit in the ice as long as he could stand it. Usually this was the time set aside to call Lacy back home so he grabbed his cell phone and placed it near the tub. It was time to get out of these duds and cool things off.
Lucretia Eleanor “Lacy” Hobbs answered the phone on the second ring. She had been literally sitting and waiting for Chase’s call today like she did most days. She had been named after a grandmother on her daddy’s side of the family and Mrs. Roosevelt, a former First Lady way back when. The name was too big for her and she much preferred just plain “Lacy”.
“Hey Cowgirl!” Chase chimed into the phone.
“Hi, how’d you do?” Lacy quickly asked.
“I made the short round…I’m in the finals” Chase replied.
“Yea!” Lacy shot back. “So what you doin’ now?” She added.
“I am icing down the equipment if you get my drift and getting mentally ready for tomorrow night. I pulled Bushwhacker on the draw,” He added.
Lacy was quiet on the other end and then says, “Oh no, Chase, you can’t ride that bull! He’s a killer! Just drop out and come on home, okay?” She begged.
“You know I can’t do that” Chase said. I’ve come too far with this to stop. I am gonna see it through to the end, Lacy” He added.
“Your going to get yourself killed and what good will that do us, Chase?” Lacy questioned.
“I hear ya, Lacy, I hear ya. Just stick with me on this. I promise you that we’ll see it through. If I can win that buckle this year there will be enough money for us to get a start. That’s all I want, sweetie, you know that. Now let me go so I can get some sleep, okay?” Chase begged.
Lacy was quiet and the she sighed, “Okay, Chase, you win. I love you.”
“Love you too, sweetie, good night” Chase replied as he lay the phone down beside the tub.
Chase lay back on bed and stared at the television that chattered away over on the dresser top. He was thinking about the bull. Any bull rider worth his salt kept a crip-sheet on the bulls that populated the circuit. This was the confrontation aspect of this sport. You didn’t confront the other riders, you confronted the bull you had drawn. Between the skills of the rider and the talents of the bull the judges would offer up a combined scoring. The bull could earn up to fifty points and so could the rider. The points spread between the two were then tallied for the combined score. On the Pro Circuit, anything above an 80 was a solid score. He needed to be better than that for this competition and probably for the one to following in Las Vegas if he was going to have a shot at the buckle.
According to all that Chase had witnessed in watching others ride and what he had heard around the chutes, Bushwhacker was a “sunfisher”. Cowboys used that label with bulls and some bareback horses to describe some of their bucking movements. Sunfishing was described as getting all four feet in the air at once and then going into a twisting gyration as if the animal were going to turn belly up to the sun. This had an effect on the rider just as if he were sitting on the end of a whip when it is popped. It was very effective in removing unwanted objects from one’s back. He was also a spinner. Bushwhacker had tendency to come out of the chute with a high buck of the back legs then go immediately into a right-handed spinning buck that made two to three rotations before the pattern was interrupted. That right-hand spin put a right-handed rider on the short side of the bull and tended to push him into the hole, the name for the spot around which the bull was spinning. It was a dangerous situation in that going off the bull to that side raised the odds of hanging up your gloved hand in the bull rope rigging. There was no easier way to get killed in this game. The thought was a sobering one for Chase as he lay on the bed and tried to visualize his ride on the Bushwhacker. Exhaustion and sleep finally overcame the vision leaving the ride unfinished in his mind.
The new morning sun blazed brightly off the mountain peaks huddled to the west of Calgary. Chase walked out of his hotel and across the parking lot to the Denny’s restaurant that occupied the adjacent block. As he walked in and looked around, the place was obviously full of cowboys still in town for the finals. Hats abounded in the sea of bodies populating the tables. Over in one corner, Tim Shanks was just sitting down alone in a booth. Chase headed his way.
“Hey, Tim, mind if I join” Chase asked as he approached the booth.
“No, grab yourself a seat, Chase, I ain’t got nobody comin’” Shanks replied. They both sat down and the waitress quickly brought a pot of coffee with two cups.
Tim stirred some milk into his coffee and asked “You ready?”
“I dunno” Chase replied. “I played this thing out in my mind until I fell asleep last night. You know, you always want to get a good bull. But, damn, man this bull is more than I had planned on to tell you the truth, Tim. On top of that, it’s got Lacy all upset and bothered. But to tell you the truth, as much as this bull scares me, I can’t walk away. Not here, not now. If I don’t do this, win or lose, I will be haunted by it for the rest of my life. Does that make sense to you, Tim?” Chase asked.
“It makes plenty sense to me, Chase,” Tim replied. “You know I want that buckle and you know I want just as bad as you do. I don’t mind seeing you win it but I’m gonna fight you all the way for it. You know that.” Tim added.
“I know it, Tim, and I understand it too. But you want that buckle because you are a competitor and you want to win. I want it because of the money that it will bring to Lacy and I to get our life started. I’m not addicted to this bull-riding stuff by any means but it’s the only way I can make some real money right now. So, I am gonna see it through.” Chase said.
“Good luck to ya, brother, you’re gonna need it” Tim replied. “Now let’s order us some breakfast.”
Chase stepped up on the bottom slat of the board fence and peered into the holding pen. It did not take him long to spot the large mass that was "Bushwhacker". The large bull stood almost a head above his surrounding peers. His skin was mostly a dark gray that transitioned to black as it came to the neck and face of the bull. "Bushwhacker" stood staring back at Chase as if he knew exactly who he was. There was no emotion displayed and he needed none. The cold look of his eyes was enough to make most riders stop in their tracks and back away. No one had stayed on "Bushwhacker" for the full 8 second ride this year. He had tossed them, kicked them, pawed them all into the dirt of the arena floor. And now, here stood the next fool on the fence rail waiting for his chance to ride. Chase stepped down from the fence thinking that he had to be a little thick-skulled to go through with this.
“And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, we come to that event in the finals you have all come here to see. Next up we have 20 of the best bull-riders on the pro circuit all wanting a shot at that big payoff if they can make the good ride .” The announcers voice signaled the start of the bull riding.
Chase was the last to ride. He had not planned it that way but it was in "Bushwhacker’s" contract so he had to wait. The promoters wanted to keep butts in the seat as long as possible so the suspense was held to the last minute. Chase checked over the rigging again looking carefully at his bull-rope to be sure it was in good shape. He had rubbed it down with fresh rosin and then rosined the riding glove that he would wear on his right hand. Now it was time to rub down the inside surfaces of the leather chaps that would protect his legs in the ride. Bull-riders tried everything and every way they could to stay on for eight seconds. Chase smiled thinking someone out there was probably looking for a way to use Velcro to stay aboard.
Tim Shanks came around the corner into the area where the riders were sitting getting mentally prepared for their turn. “Hey, Tim, how’d you do?” Chase asked immediately.
“You know I would have been out there but it’s bad luck to watch before you ride, you know how it is?” Chase added.
“Yeah, I understand, Chase, been there myself.” Replied Tim. “I got an 87” He quickly added with a big grin. “I couldn’t believe it. Nobody could. That damn ol’ ‘Q-P Doll’ just came to life for me and gave me a good go. Of course, I added my own distinctive style” Tim laughed.
“That’ll be tough to beat, Tim, especially on that demon that I am riding. I’ll be lucky to just hang on for 8 seconds” Chase said. “Anyway, I’m glad you got a good ride, you deserve it man. But, I’ll be gunnin’ for ya. You know that” Chase added.
Tim just grinned real big and said “I’ll be out there watchin’ ya, Chase. Do good, my friend.” He patted Chase on the back and headed for the arena.
Chase crawled up on the backside of the chute. "Bushwhacker" was already inside and waiting. The handlers began to help him get situated on the back of the bull and put his bull-rope into position. Chase pulled at the riding-glove on his right hand and then grabbed the tension strap on the back of it in his teeth and cinched it down tight on his wrist. Bushwhacker was restless and seemingly ready to get this show on the road. He shifted his weight against the sides of the chute not caring whether he crushed Chase’s legs in the process. Chase laid the back of his gloved right hand into leather casing on the bull-rope. He grabbed the braided tail of the rope and pulled it tight. When it was as tight as he could pull it, he gave it one more heave and then wrapped braided tail back through the palm of his hand closing it in a death grip on the rope. He reset his hat, looked at handlers and the cowboy on the gate. One deep breath and he gave him the nod that he was ready to go.
As the gate pulled back, "Bushwhacker" left the chute in a leap as if he were a ballerina dancing and spinning lightly on the toes. He landed in a half-turning spin out in front of the chute and then launched into a to and fro bucking movement kicking his rear legs higher into the air with each cycle. Just as he began a turn to the right, one of the bull-fighters ran out to distract him. Bushwhacker quickly lunged to his left in a twisting movement slamming the bull-fighter or rodeo clown , as they are commonly called, into the steel rails of the chute gate. He went down but the other bull-fighter created a distraction to the right and lured the bull off of the downed clown. Now "Bushwhacker" began to jump leaping from the ground with all four feet at once then twisting the entire length of his body as he flawlessly executed the sunfishing movement to dislodge the rider. Then with a half turn to the left he went into a twisting, kicking spin to the right.
Chase recovered quickly from the leap out of the chute and regained his balance on the bull’s back. He kept his free arm high and away from any contact with the bull or himself and he tried to spur the bull while he hung on. As Bushwhacker went after the first bull-fighter, Chase again regained his edge but not for long as the familiar sunfisher movement quickly began to toss him about on the bull’s back. Now the spin to the right, one time, two, now three. "Bushwhacker" seemed to ignore the bull-fighter who was out front trying to distract him out of the spin. Chase fought against the momentum that was pulling him into the hole around the spot where the bull was spinning. Time seemed to stand still yet chaos ruled the moment. Then he heard the familiar sound of the eight second horn as it signaled the end of the ride.
"Bushwhacker" paid no attention to eight second horns and kept bucking and spinning to the right. Chase wrestled the bull rope with his left hand attempting to free his right. In the process, he went off the right side of the bull and landed on his feet. His right hand was hung up in the rigging and "Bushwhacker" immediately yanked him off his feet as he made yet another wild lunge. Now the bull could see the downed rider on his right side and he began to turn into him spinning in circles to butt the rider with his head. Everything was a blur.
“Get on your feet, Chase,” he kept reminding himself, “you’ve got to stay up on your feet.” The remaining bull-fighter ran boldly up to the left side of the bull and made a grab for the bull rope hoping to free Chase from the raging bull. "Bushwhacker" immediately wheeled to the left and caught the bull-fighter with his head. With a shoveling motion, he flipped the bull-fighter hard against the chutes rendering him helpless in this dance of death.
“Stay on your feet” Chase kept thinking, “you have to stay on your feet!” He could feel himself being beaten against the bull as it twist and turned and flailed about in all its rage. Chase was tossed about like a child’s rag doll hanging on a clothesline on a windy day. “Stay on your feet, stay on your….”. Then the lights went out as Chase gave in to the overpowering strength and rage of this massive animal.
Chase woke to the chirp of a hospital monitor beside his bed. As he opened both eyes he saw Lacy sitting in a chair nearby. She looked at him and smiled. “Am I gonna live, Lacy?” Chase asked quietly.
“The doctor says you probably will although you have a broken leg, a broken arm, three fractured ribs and a bruised lung. That goes without mentioning all the other cuts, bruises, and scrapes. You damn near got your self killed. But you’re gonna live. I am really glad of that, so glad that I can’t be mad right now. But when you are better, you get ready for some mad, got it?” Lacy said staring straight into his eyes. "
Yes, mamm” Chase said quietly into his pillow.
“You won the prize money; you rode him for the full eight seconds, if that means anything to you now,” Lacy said. “Bushwhacker won a prize too. He set the record for putting two bull-fighters in the hospital on the same night.” Lacy added.
“Well, if that is the case, how did I get loose from the bull, Lacy?” Chase asked. Just then the door to the hospital room opened and Tim Shanks walked in carrying Chase’s bull-rope.
“Tim got you loose, Chase” Lacy said smiling at Tim. “When he saw the last bull fighter go down, he jumped off the chute and ran in to pull you loose. If he hadn’t got there when he did, this would have come out much differently.” She added.
Chase turned to Tim and said, “Tim, I don’t know what to say except ‘thanks’”.
“Aw, hell, it wouldn’t nothing. You’d do the same for me in that situation. I know you would. Besides that, after I saw that you had rode that bull, I knew I had to make sure that I got another shot at you in Las Vegas. So you see, it was selfish on my part.” Tim laughed.
“You’ll see me in Las Vegas, Tim but it won’t be on the back of a bull. I’ll be up there in the stands cheering on my favorite bull-rider, Tim Shanks. Ol’ "Bushwhacker" has taught me there are a lot more important things in life and plenty of ways to achieve them that don’t include riding bulls.” Chase looked at Lacy and she smiled.
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