Love for the job required
WAYNE — If you’re going to strap yourself to a bull, you better love what you do.
That’s the recommendation veteran bull riders gave before the Ultimate Bullriding competition kicked off at the 2018 Wayne County fair here Thursday night.
“It’s got to be borne in you,” L.J. Jenkins, said. “It’s not the safest sport in the world, so got to love it to do it.”
For Jenkins, it’s an outlook derived from experience.
He competed on the national Professional Bull Riders (PBR) circuit for years. Between 2005 and 2014, he qualified for the PBR World Finals each year, was dubbed rookie of the year and won the championship in 2006.
He was good. But tragedy struck in 2015 when he fractured his neck and doctors recommended that he quit. So, he retired from competition mid-season that year.
“You got to love it,” he reiterated. “You can get injured doing this. It’s one of them deals, it can be life or death.”
But other than that, he said, the lifestyle is amazing.
“I’ve seen the whole countryside; it’s an experience,” he said.
He said it’s exciting to compete and meet new and interesting people. But that lifestyle also means many nights away from home.
“I probably had five weekends off a year,” he said. “(And) during the summer months, I’d be home a few days and that’s it.”
Even so, that whirlwind lifestyle was attractive enough to draw about 45 cowboys to the Wayne County fair competition, according to Mark Ward, who produces Ultimate Bullriding tour events.
Ward, who rode bulls for 16 years before retiring, said riders came to compete from all over the country and are all ages.
“We got (cowboys) coming from as far north as North Dakota and as far south as Texas,” he said.
Cowboys must ride their respective bulls for 8 seconds to qualify and get scored. Riders are graded on a scale between 0 and 100, with scores above 90 being considered exceptional rides. Those with qualifying rides then compete in a short-round against each other.
The competition is fierce because riders put up their own money to try for the winning pot.
“There are 42 cowboys here who believe (they’ll win), or they wouldn’t be here,” Ward said.
Competition doesn’t end with riders alone; the bulls are also judged. And the event brought 21 independent stock contractors, he said.
Contractors like Jenkins.
Now living in Porum, Okla., Jenkins breeds bulls for competition and runs his own bullriding tour. Those winners from Wayne’s Thursday competition will qualify to compete in his event’s February championship.
He enjoys still being involved in the sport even if that means not riding. And he was particularly excited to be in Nebraska again. Because for Jenkins, bringing his bulls and judging the event in Wayne County is something he looks forward to every year.
“I’ve been all over the world, and this is really one of the best bullridings we go to all year,” he said. “Some just don’t have the atmosphere like Wayne does. It’s one that I don’t want to miss.”