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Bull riding steadily growing as a stand-alone sport in Canada

By Kristy Koehler, March 26 2019 —

On March 22 and 23, athletes from as far away as Brazil converged on the Nutrien Western Event Centre in Calgary to compete in the Calgary Classic, an event on the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Canada Monster Energy Tour.  

Professional bull riders are quickly becoming the rockstars of the rodeo world. Always one of the most popular events at rodeos around the world, the PBR organization was formed in 1992 by 20 riders who believed bull riding could succeed as a standalone sport. Now, with sponsorships by Monster Energy and television broadcasting by TSN, it appears the founders were right. PBR runs more than 300 events annually including on its international circuits in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Australia. More than $180 million in prize money has been given out and 34 riders have earned more than $1 million each.

PBR bills itself as the most exciting eight seconds in sports. “The first step is just staying alive,” reads their media guide. “There are no timeouts. No slow-down, four-corners offense. No towels to throw in. There is only one man, one bull and eight desperate seconds.”

Four judges have 25 points each to award to the rider and to the bull. Points are combined, then halved for an official score. Both athletes — and in bull riding the bulls are considered athletes — are scored out of 50 points each for a total of 100 available points per ride.

Judges score bulls on degree of difficulty — speed, power and kicking ability. Re-rides are awarded if the bull doesn’t perform well enough to give the rider a fair chance at a good score.

Riders must stay on the animal for eight seconds — judges look for control and body position. The rider must hang on to the bull — they average between 700 and 900 kilograms — with one hand and is disqualified if he touches himself or the bull with his free hand.

If the enthusiastic, sold-out crowd in Calgary was any indication, bull riding is well on its way to becoming what the original 20 athletes who formed the PBR wanted — a stand-alone sport with a wide audience.

Zane Lambert, from Ponoka, Alberta, won round one of the Calgary Classic on March 22. He’s also a two-time PBR Champion and sits ninth in the Canadian rankings. He’s a four-time Calgary Stampede and three-time Canadian Finals Rodeo qualifier.

During round two, Lambert had to contend with a re-ride before he even left the chute, something that can happen if the bull is too unruly or won’t perform at all. Lambert took it in stride.

“That’s the sport,” he said. “That’s bull riding. It’s what keeps it hard and challenging, all of these different factors. You’re dealing with timing, you’re dealing with the chute people, you’re dealing with the bullfighters. Anything can be a factor. You just have to keep doing your stuff and your business. You just push everything out. And that’s how you find out who are the professionals that can handle all that and keep going.”

Lambert says after more than a decade of bull riding, it’s the challenge that keeps him coming back for more. He also hopes to see the sport grow.

“We’re trying to grow the sport,” he said. “We’ve got a little ways to go yet. We’ve really got to grow here in Canada. I feel it’s really grown in Brazil, it’s really grown in Australia. We just want to keep it going here. I don’t think we’re rockstars yet.”

Another Canadian competing in the Calgary Classic was Shay Marks. The 23-year-old athlete recently recovered from reconstructive shoulder surgery. After a two-year hiatus to recover, he won the season-launcher of the Monster Energy Tour in Winnipeg. For him, there was never a chance his career would be over.

“It was just at a halt for a bit,” he said. “I was just waiting to get back on.”

Who do the bull riders really compete with in these events? 

“It’s hard to say,” said Marks. “Definitely not against the other riders but against the bull and against your own head.”

After the Calgary Classic, Marks ended up in third in the national standings. There are plenty more events coming up this season, independent of the Calgary Stampede. A full schedule, standings and more information can be found at pbrcanada.com.

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