‘For the love of bull riding’
September 16, 2008
“Hey bull, hey bull,” Johnny Howell prods as he nudges the bull just before the gate opens and bull and rider charge into the arena.
The bull jumps. Bucks. Twists. And the rider falls into the dirt and manure.
The ride doesn’t last eight seconds. But it doesn’t matter. Not really.
They’re here to practice and to learn.
Joe Clark moved to Washoe Valley in 1988 and started the Triple J Bull Riding livestock company.
Now complete with an arena with outdoor lights, chutes and stands, Clark and his sons Johnny Howell, 35, and James Clark run the company, and every Friday night they buck bulls for any riders who show up.
It’s $15 to ride, but that’s not why Triple J continues.
“That doesn’t even come close to covering the hay,” Joe Clark says. “It’s for the love of bull riding.”
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Blue Garza, 23, grew up in Reno. But that’s not where he considers his home.
“I grew up at this pen,” he says, stretching before a Friday night ride. “My dad rode bulls. That’s all I ever did really. I can’t do nothin’ else.”
He started riding calves when he was 6 and moved up from there. He practiced his technique at the pen in Washoe Valley and a pen run by his family in Schurz.
Willie Covers Up, 25, has also spent a lot of time at the Triple J. He grew up on his grandfather’s ranch in Wadsworth and rode his first bull when he was about 15 or 16.
“To tell you the truth, I got bucked off that first bull,” he said. “I just underestimated the strength and power of bulls.”
After that ride, Clark asked Covers Up if he’d like to practice in his arena. Covers Up now credits Clark with his success.
“You couldn’t find a better place to learn bull riding,” he said.
Covers Up made the decision to become a professional bull rider, but it wasn’t an easy one.
He felt guilty leaving his grandpa, Bob James, to run the ranch with only his younger cousins to help, and he sold off his cattle herd.
“I guess I just like bull riding,” he explained.
But he still misses home.
“It’s different when you’re on the road,” he said. “It’s tough not to be able to go outside and catch a horse. Even just to ride down by the river.”
Fellow bull rider Glenn Rosberg, 29, of Reno, can see why Covers Up misses his home.
“You wanna talk about wild, wild woohah, go ride with those guys down on the reservation,” he said.
He said Covers Up and his cousins race bareback and try to tackle each other off their horses.
“We have fun,” Covers Up says, smirking from under his straw hat.
These are the kind of people he feels comfortable around, Rosberg said. He works odd jobs off and on to supplement his bull-riding winnings, but he’s never enjoyed any other kind of work.
His most recent job was at a riding stable. He quit a few weeks ago.
“There’s a difference between a real cowboy and a guy who wants to talk about it,” he said. “It’s hard to relate to people that ain’t like you.”
But it’s hard making a living at rodeo alone.
Blue Garza was sitting around 10th in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings about halfway through the season, when he got “fined up,” and had to quit.
It can be a common problem among the cowboys ” they get so far behind on their entry fees that they’re no longer allowed to enter.
“It’s tough when you don’t have a sponsor,” Garza explained. His brother J. has also been out of competition after he got kicked by a bull and ended up with a broken arm.
Despite the financial hardships and risk of injury, Howell says the sport is increasing in popularity.
“It’s growing. Every day there’s more and more,” he said. “It’s probably the fastest growing contact sport in the U.S.A.”
Garrett Crist, who everyone just calls “Money,” is a classic representative of the next generation of bull riders.
The 10-year-old, who is now sponsored by Oletha Boots, decided when he was 6 that he wanted to ride bulls. Although his parents had horses, he didn’t grow up on a ranch nor does he come from a rodeo background.
“All he’s ever wanted to do be is a bull rider,” his dad, George Crist, said. “No basketball. No football. No video games.”
The bulls can be intimidating, but Money doesn’t let that stop him.
“Sometimes I get scared, like on bigger ones,” he said. “But if I don’t do it, I know I’ll never be tough enough to do it. So I just get on.”
The other bull riders can give Money a hard time, but he doesn’t even crack a smile.
“When he gets out of the truck, he’s all business,” George Crist said. “When we leave, he’s a 10-year-old again.”
Watching the other guys riding and getting bucked off doesn’t deter him either.
“It gets me excited,” Money said. “I hope someday I could be that good.”
His father said the bull riders have been really supportive. They’ll stay an extra day at a rodeo, he said, to watch Money ride.
On Friday, when a bull stepped on his leg, Mike O’Farrell, 19, ran out to carry Money out of the arena and get him out of harm’s way.
The next bull, Money rode for the full eight seconds.
“Most guys’ heroes are the latest sports star or movie star,” George Crist said. “His heroes are these guys. It’s cool. His heroes are somebody he can talk to every day.”
When Money wins, George Crist said, he’ll often want to drive out to the Triple J before going home to show Clark his winning belt buckle.
And that’s the point.
Clark said they don’t want to just give bull riders and potential bull riders the opportunity to ride, they want to teach them technique and help them improve.
“It’s exciting if they actually progress and do good,” Howell said.
– Contact reporter Teri Vance at email@example.com or 881-1272.