By Mark Reamer
There are few events in Rodeo more exciting than bull riding. There are few events anywhere that get the blood pumping, the adrenaline rushing, and the stomach-churning, like watching a good bull rider have a go on a good bull. I doubt if a breath is taken in the entire arena for 8 seconds after the bull and rider launch into the arena whether the rider is successful or not. All instinctively know the risks inherent whether or not they have ever been around a full-grown bull before or not, and respect the man that would dare attempt such an enterprise (even if they suspect that said adventurer maybe about a half a bubble out of plum, more or less). Even so, many average fans don’t fully appreciate the raw power the bull they’re watching is truly capable of.
Dad named him Ferdinand. He was a Black Angus bull that sired our herds for years when I was growing up. We would put him with the Hereford cows and he would throw the prettiest baldys you ever did see, all black like their sire except for their pure white heads that they got from their mothers. Ferdinand lasted so long because he would produce small calves at birth that grew unbelievably fast. Also, dad and he were buddies.
Ferdinand was no fire snorter, which was why dad named him as he did, after the old cartoon. He was in fact, just the opposite. We used to feed in the winter every morning before school. This was before big round bales and we would load a pickup of small square bales made up of a mix of prairie hay and alfalfa. Once in the pasture dad would drive while I broke the bales and spread them out behind the truck. The cows would come at a trot, followed by Ferdinand at his slow, leisurely pace. He was as interested in the food as the cows but he had other designs as well.
While the cows immediately fell to the hay Ferdinand would come ambling up figuring kinda where we would finish and start bawling at dad. When we ran out of hay dad would get out of the truck and that old bull would walk up to him to get his ears scratched as content as could be. A few minutes of ear scratches and a couple of pats on the neck and he would go join the herd for breakfast. There was never a gentler bull to be found anywhere.
He wasn’t a jumper. He never tore up any fence. All in all, he was a good, mild bull worth his weight in gold. We only had trouble with him one time. Our pasture land was on the western edge of a square. We had it fenced off from about 20 acres of farm ground with a creek running through the middle, on the eastern edge of the square a neighbor had about 40 acres of pasture that he generally didn’t do much with.
Well, one year he decides to use his acreage and pasture a small herd of heifers after he had made a contract with somebody else who had one of that high dollar pedigree’d bulls whose heritage and lineage can be traced back further than mine I expect.
The presence of a herd of heifers a mile away did not go unnoticed by Ferdinand. Whether he heard them or smelled them or some other cow sense that mere humans are unable to comprehend informed him, I can’t rightly say. What I can rightly say is that the phone rang just after the first gloaming light of day. “Come get your bull.”
Dad and I got into the pickup and went to get him. The neighbor was a little upset. Ferdinand didn’t seem much bothered at all. Dad drove up to him cussing and scolding him for his behavior. He walked up to him, got in his face and gave him a stern talking to before dropping his lariat around his neck and tying the other end to the ball hitch of the pickup.
We started back with Ferdinand in tow. He didn’t complain or anything just leisurely followed the truck and the pull of the rope.
I rode in the back, that was my favorite seat in a pickup when I was a kid and there weren’t any laws against it then. It was my job to jump out and open the half dozen or so gates between the neighbor's pasture and where Ferdinand was supposed to be. We moved at a bull’s walking pace and as we approached a gate I would jump out and run ahead of the truck to open it, wait for dad and Ferdinand to get through, latch it again then catch back up to the truck and ride to the next.
We were almost back to our home pasture when we came to a gate that was latched tighter than usual and I couldn’t get it to slip right away. Dad caught up to me and had to stop. Ferdinand kept on walking until he got beside the truck and stopped.
I’m not sure what really happened. Maybe a fly bit his nose. Maybe it finally occurred to him that we were taking him away from the new heifers. Maybe he just got a queer notion. It could have been anything.
With a snort, he started swinging his head. Dad scolded him and me both, telling Ferdinand to calm down and me to hurry up with the gate. Suddenly he swung his head in earnest against the rear quarter panel of the pickup, crumpling it like a wad of paper and moving the back end over dang near a foot. After that, he spotted some fresh green grass and bent down for a bite, satisfied that he had made his point I guess.
He really wasn’t even half trying.
The next time you see one of those half loco bull riders literally hanging on for dear life atop a truly mean bull, remember what Ferdinand did to that pickup with one shake of his head. If you didn’t hold your breath during a bull ride before, you just might now.