Rodeo bullriders hold a truism. It isn’t if you’re going to get hurt riding, it’s when.
I found out for myself this is true at Mack Arena in Celina, Ohio.
After a raging bull flicked me skyward like a flea as a competitor, I ended up on the Celina turf-covered concrete with seven shattered ribs, a scraped-up head, a collapsed lung, and a visit from two sons (who repeated my lecture on responsibility I’d first preached to them in their teens).
That trip to the E.R. by ambulance was in my first and only real rodeo bull ride. Except for one other less injurious ride I tried just for sport on a brahma that went much better.
Anyway, I did a little better than a guy I met on a plane who was thrown way up into the spectator seats at Celina and ended up with reconstructive facial surgery.
He too gave up rodeo. He is a motorcross driver today. If that tells you anything about the danger of bullriding.
But those who dare take the bull by the rope between the horns know they have lived through an adrenaline rush unlike any other.
Me, I had the satisfaction of weathering the bull’s fast run out the gate and one colossal jump before I went airborne well under eight seconds.
That inexplicable urge to show mastery while you’ve got living, breathing, horned livestock between your legs is why Zachary (Zach) Myers has competed in bullriding — with measurably more success than I had, at age 58, as a bullrider.
Zach, a youthful and sturdily built Union City, Ind., city worker, rode eight bulls in two years and collected four wins by staying aboard the required eight seconds.
A modest and soft-spoken fellow, Zach showed off his prize buckles with quiet but observable pride during an interview last Monday at UC’s Harter Park.
The first time he competed, at a rodeo in Waynesville, he had the same thought many other novice riders have had.
“Am I going to die today?” Zach recalled with a chuckle.
While many riders, including myself, have had some training in coating resin on a rope attached to a bull, climbing aboard the animal at the gate, and knowing how to dismount at successful ride’s end, Zach knew nothing about nothing his first time.
Except that Zach stayed on the bull right ‘til the blaring horn in Waynesville and won his first amateur buckle. “It all seemed natural to me,” he said. “I knew what I had to do.”
OK, Zach, he’s asked, what is your secret to success?
“Bullriding is like dancing the tango,” he said. “The bull, excuse me, is like your partner. It is you who must match their moods and drop your own [moods] if you want to finish.”
OK, I thought, recalling my own painful experience. That means tangoing with a smelly near-2,000 pound adversary who can shatter your toe like dropped crystal if he, she, or it steps on your foot?
Meaning to me: that tango partner of Zach’s is neither a Ginger Rogers nor Fred Astaire. Nor maybe not even a twisting Chubby Checker. And I doubt “Dancing with the Star Bulls” will soon be seen on cable.
As a failed bull dancer, I had to ask: What was the hardest skill, you Zach, had to learn?
Dismounting after a successful eight-second ride, he said.
He means this: Getting off the bull can be as dangerous as getting on one at the gate.
“I just leaped off toward the rear and knew I was going with [the momentum], Zach said. ”I had no idea where my feet went that first time. I just hoped I’m going away from the bull.”
Which brings us to today. Zach’s professional aspirations as a bullfighter now are on hold. He met a tougher, more determined foe than the toughest bull he ever faced.
Namely, his girlfriend Bethany, who is now Mrs. Zach Myers. And Bethany says “no mas” to joyriding aboard undomesticated livestock.
Why? Unfortunately, the “when” time came for Zach as it does for all bull riders. In a ride in Celina he no sooner got out of the gate when an interesting development occurred.
“I was instantly on the ground,” Zach says with a wince.
Whoopsy. Zach this time had chosen the wrong tango partner.
After the rider’s fall, the bull spun and landed full atop him with cloven hooves before the rodeo clowns could shoo the beast away. (Imagine you being on your back in a chimney hearth when Santa and eight reindeer land on you and your pelvis.)
Zach had bruises to last a lifetime but he refused hospitalization to see if a rib or two was busted.
I’m not surprised he refused medical aid.
My interrupted tango dance and resulting injuries cost me $12,000, and I was lucky my job’s insurance covered a fraction of all that.
So what’s next for urban bullpuncher Zach Myers?
Giving rodeo up entirely to please Bethany may not be his most satisfying career option.
Zach would like to give rodeo a go.
He’s wavering between sticking with bullriding as a rodeo clown or giving the goat-roping event a try.
Oh, wow, I’m witcha, Zach, and ready to start training, I say to myself.
Um, just let’s not mention this just yet to your wife Bethany or my wife Gosia, OK, Zach?
I may earn that doggone elusive rodeo belt buckle yet.
And that’s no bull. Or, sorry, maybe it is.
Hank Nuwer is newly moved to Union City, Indiana — about one block from Darke County. He retired July 1, 2020 from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism after 18 years. He is the author of the historical novel Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey, which makes use of his experiences as a young reporter trailing a large band of sheep with Basque herders from Spain. A longtime magazine freelance writer, he shares his reflections on the people and places he finds in Darke County. His wife, Gosia, a native of Warsaw, Poland, is a freelance photographer and longtime accountant.