Virginia man finds success on bull-riding circuit
BEDFORD, Va. (AP) — Austin Beaty said eight seconds seems a lot longer when you are sitting on top of a 1,600-pound bull that has only one thing on its mind — throwing you off its back.
“Most animals can get used to having someone on their back,” Beaty said. “Bulls aren’t most animals. They just aren’t wired that way. Eight seconds on a bull that doesn’t want you there can feel like an eternity.”
However, Beaty said he cannot think of a better way to spend eight seconds.
“That feeling never gets old,” Beaty said. “It’s like pure heat running through your veins. I feel like I can do anything in those eight seconds.”
Beaty, 27, describes bull riding as a collaborative sport — like a pairs competition in which one partner tries to kill the other. If a rider manages to hang on for eight seconds, they earn up to 50 points for their own form and up to 50 points for the bull’s form. The meaner — or “rank” — the bull is, the better the score.
“I’ve been lucky and have drawn some good bulls this season,” Beaty said. “A couple of them have really had some fight in them.”
Beaty — an active duty sergeant in the National Guard in Bedford — currently is the top bull rider in the First Frontier Circuit, one of 12 circuits that make up the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Beaty is one of more than 30 bull riders in the First Frontier Circuit — which covers the northeastern part of the United States — and one of more than 1,000 bull riders who compete in the PRCA across the country. Riders can compete in rodeos in any of the circuits, but prize money earned in PRCA events are used toward their rankings in their respective circuits. Beaty has placed first in multiple events across the U.S. this season.
“It is ranked by winnings,” Beaty said. “I’ve earned a little over $16,000 so far this season and I am about $6,000 in the lead right now.”
In January, Beaty — who finished third overall in the First Frontier Circuit last season — will be riding in the circuit finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and competing for a spot in the circuit championships in Kissimmee, Fla.
“I’m really excited,” Beaty said. “It’s been a long road getting to the championships.”
And there have been more than a few bumps and bruises along the way, he said.
A native of Bedford County, Beaty decided he wanted to ride bulls he was 12 years old.
“I grew up riding and showing horses,” Beaty said. “But there was something about bull riding that just drew me in. A lot of 12-year-old boys think they want to ride bulls but I knew I wanted to.”
Beaty said when he asked his mother, Jody Toms, if he could take lessons at a bull riding school in Boonsboro, she told him he could only if he could pay for the lessons.
“I thought when I told him he had to pay for it that would be the end of it,” Toms said. “But he went and sold every paintball gun he owned and came up with the money. I didn’t want to let him but I couldn’t go back on what I said.”
“My mother wasn’t happy,” Beaty said, laughing. “She wasn’t happy at all.”
Beaty said he learned the fundamentals of bull riding from David Gaither, the owner of the bull riding school in Boonsboro. Gaither also hosted regular bull-bucking events for his students that were popular attractions in the area for years.
“David is amazing and he has trained a lot of boys over the years,” Beaty said. “He taught me that bull riding is mostly a mental game. The most important thing is your attitude and your state of mind. A bucketful of try will get you a lot farther that a truckload of talent in this sport.”
Beaty said Gaither’s lessons paid off when he rode his first bull for the full eight seconds.
“I was hooked after that,” Beaty said. “I remember thinking that this was the only thing I wanted to do.”
However, not every ride during Beaty’s first few years in the sport went as smoothly as his first.
“I got banged up a little here and there,” Beaty said. “I got a few concussions and I got my arm broke during a junior rodeo in New Mexico when I was in high school.”
Toms said the rodeo in New Mexico demonstrated her son’s dedication to the sport after the judges determined he was eligible for a re-ride — which happens if something occurs during a ride like a rider getting rubbed against the chute — and he asked if he could ride again even though his arm was broken.
“He begged me to let him get back on a bull that night,” Toms said. “I told him that that would be child abuse if I were to let him get back on with a broken arm. He was mad at me but there was no way I was going to let him.”
Although Beaty continued riding bulls after graduating from Liberty High School, he became serious about bull riding as a profession in 2016, after his National Guard unit was deployed to the Middle East for a one-year security mission.
“We were sent to Qatar and that experience changed the way I looked at things,” Beaty said. “I realized that life is far too short. When we got back home I was determined it was time to start following my dreams.”
“I am proud of Austin’s service to our country and I’m also proud that he decided to go for what he has always wanted,” Toms said. “He has passion for what he is doing and he works hard to be the best he can be.”
Beaty has a strict training regimen that helps him stay on the back of a one-ton animal that is bucking and thrashing.
Every morning and evening, Beaty trains on a mechanical bull at his farm in Bedford County that helps develop his core and leg muscles. He also jumps horses while riding bareback to simulate the types of movements he encounters while bull riding.
“It’s all about muscle memory,” Beaty said. “You can’t really be thinking about it while you are riding. Your movements come pretty naturally if you want to stay on.”
Beaty also performs cross training every day to stay in shape, which also helps his body recover quickly from injuries that happen when bull riding.
“You are going to get beat up a little out there and there is no way around that,” Beaty said. “Staying in shape helps you recover but also can help prevent some injuries. I think that is important because you can love rodeo, but rodeo does not have to love you back.”
Tim Kent — a bareback bronco rider on the First Frontier Circuit and one of Beaty’s close friends on the circuit — said Beaty’s attitude plays an even bigger role in his success.
“He’s very fit but he’s mentally tough,” Kent said. “He has a mental toughness that is just scary. Injuries are a big distraction and Austin has a way of shrugging that off and riding through the pain. He always has a great attitude and even when he has a bad day he just comes back harder the next ride and gives it his all.”
Beaty’s hard work has not gone unnoticed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Kevin Clanton, president of the First Frontier Circuit, said Beaty “absolutely deserves” the number one spot he currently holds in the bull riding division.
“He’s a really good guy,” Clanton said. “He comes out every rodeo and gives 100 percent. He is having a good year but it hasn’t come easy. He has really worked for it.”
Next season, Beaty plans to switch to a different circuit that will allow him to compete for world standings and a chance to ride in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the premier event in rodeo where winning a championship can earn a rider prize money of up to $1 million.
“That kind of money could be a life changer,” Beaty said. “And I would love to compete at that level with some of the guys that are my heroes in this sport.”
However, Beaty said he will focus on next season when the next season begins.
“One thing at a time,” Beaty said. “Right now, I’m focusing on Harrisburg and hopefully Florida. But no matter what happens, I’m grateful to God for blessing me so far and I just want to keep doing this as long as I am able.”
Toms said she does not doubt she will one day be watching her son in Las Vegas.
“He certainly has the drive and the talent and I couldn’t be prouder,” Toms said. “Even though there is a lump in my throat every time he rides, I am very proud of him.”
Toms added Beaty could have some competition in a few years. Her 10-year-old son, Kason Toms, started riding bulls this year and has the same natural talent as his older brother.
“Kason rode in his first rodeo with Austin recently and both of them won their divisions that night,” Toms said. “It was twice as scary watching two of them ride.”
Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/