As I gradually (VERY gradually) got better at staying on the bull, until after the buzzer, I started running out of rodeos that would allow non-professional riders to compete. I rode in a few IRA shows, buying a one-time permit, but soon noticed that I had already spent nearly as much as I would for the annual dues, so I decided to join. At that time, the two biggest organizations were the IRA and the RCA (International Rodeo Assoc. and Rodeo Cowboys Assoc.). The RCA was the bigger of the two, and more prestigious, and the cost for membership were about the same. So, looking at the number of shows that would be available to me, I decided to join the RCA. It was a chunk of change for me, but I foolishly thought I’d only have to win one pot to make it back many times over.
I guess I should have stressed foolishly in that last sentence.
My first pro show, as an RCA member, was in Anaheim, CA. I was blown away by the difference in atmosphere. These guys were the big-time! Hell, most of ’em drove rigs that cost more than my house! People like Larry Mahan and Don Gay, both really nice guys that always had a friendly word and a handshake for a rookie, were common sights in the chutes. I actually turned out right before Mahan once, and he helped fish my rope, and said, “Don’t make me look bad.”
I didn’t. Hell! I made him look GREAT!
That bull was the quickest $235 I ever spent. I must have missed covering him by about a second, ’cause I heard the buzzer while I was still in mid-air. I think I probably would have been disqualified anyway, because my left arm dropped, and brushed my leg. Mahan took the bull event that weekend (neither his first, nor his last time), as well as best all-around. I’m sure it must have been because my style inspired him.
Some other good shows I rode in were the Brawley Cattle Call, Banning Rodeo, San Bernadino Sheriff’s Rodeo and the Marysville Rodeo. I ran into Cotton Rosser at many of them, and a couple of his boys that were learning the business from the bottom up.
I spent part of my high school years in the Imperial Valley, and knew a lot of folks down there, so the Brawley Cattle Call was one I didn’t want to miss. At that point, I had yet to win one thin dime towards fillin’ my permit, so I was determined to make a good showing. I got in just about the time they were posting the draw, and I saw I had drawn a bull named Preacher.
I asked around if anyone knew anything about him, and found out he had racked up a cowboy over on the coast a couple of weeks before. Tossed him in the air and met him on the way down.
Hmmmm. That’s funny! That’s what happened to L.J. on a big black bull a couple of weeks ago.
I went looking for my bull. When I found him, I couldn’t help but notice that he was big (I’m talking cast-a-LONG-shadow big!), black (as the pits of Hell) and mean red eyes ( see the pits of Hell reference). Preacher, my ass! This bull should have been named Diablo!
L.J. had said he wouldn’t be getting in ’til around midnight, so I’d have to wait, to ask him if this was his bull. I wasn’t riding until the next afternoon, but if this was the same critter, I wanted to know what to expect. I hadn’t been with L.J. the day he got slammed, and nobody could tell me anything about Preacher, beyond him being a headhunter.
Morning came, and no L.J. I looked up the chute hands and asked them about Preacher, but the best answer I got was that he was the highest scoring bull they had. That can be good news or bad, depending…
For a guy like velcro-on-his-butt Don Gay, it’d be great news. The judges actually score the cowboy and the bull separately, and then combine them into one score. So a good cowboy can do everything right, but with a dud of a bull, finish way out of the money. Everyone seemed to agree that Preacher was a bullrider’s dream.
Note: There is a thin line between dream and nightmare.
L.J. got in around noon, and confirmed that Preacher was the same bull that had damn near sent him to the Great Hunting Ground, and added that he had little to offer, since he’d been unconscious after Preacher snapped his head back and connected his thick skull with L.J.’s. He couldn’t remember a damned thing, except an exceptionally pretty nurse in the hospital when he woke up.
That wasn’t ’til the next day, though.
He still had tape holding his nose in place, four cracked ribs, and a left hand and forearm in plaster. He also mentioned that he still had one testicle that was up around his adam’s apple, afraid to come out. The gal with him had been there, and said the bull had hooked him, thrown him about twelve feet in the air, and then slammed up into him as he came down, before doing a little dance on his carcass. He’d also sent one of the rodeo clowns away in an ambulance, that tried to distract him away from L.J.
Oh, boy! Things just keep gettin’ better and better!