ROGERS, Ohio — There are few moments in life that compare to the feeling of sitting atop a bucking, spinning, kicking bull. There are even fewer moments that compare to the feeling of hearing that eight-second buzzer and knowing you finished the ride.
“It is the biggest adrenaline rush, ever,” said Alex Pryor, a 17-year-old bull rider and bareback rider who earned the reserve champion title in both of those events at the Ohio High School Rodeo finals June 20-22.
The young cowboy from Rogers, Ohio, spends nearly 52 weekends a year searching for that rush. He loves the anticipation, the energy, the will to win that comes alive when it’s just him and a 2,000-pound bull.
Class of his own
Pryor is the only rough stock rider representing eastern Ohio in the state and national competitions this year. With the state contest already wrapped up, Pryor is looking ahead to the national contest, held July 20-27 in Farmington, N.M.
Last year at the national event, Pryor finished in the top one-third overall and also earned a fifth place spot for one of his performances.
A senior at the Columbiana County Career and Technical Center, Pryor is a member of the Ohio High School Rodeo Association. When he turns 18, he’ll take the next step in his rodeo career and join the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“I’d like to go with it (rodeo) as long as I can go with it,” Pryor said.
But his sights are set on more than just rodeo. At school, he’s enrolled in the veterinary science technology program. Once he graduates, he hopes to attend Ohio State University and major in large animal veterinary medicine.
While there are some colleges that offer rodeo programs, OSU isn’t one of them. But that’s OK with Pryor. He said he’s ready to join the professional organization.
He’s spent most of his 17 years in a rodeo arena. He rode his first steer at 6 years old and by the time he was 10, he was taking on bulls.
The problem with bull riding is there’s no good way to know how it’s going to feel. You learn by doing.
And even though Pryor had watched a lot of rodeos on TV, he was a little scared until he got in the chute.
“As soon as I sat down on him, it kind of all went away,” he said.
Pryor rode that bull — Milkman — seven times. And seven times, Milkman threw him off.
But instead of getting discouraged, Pryor felt motivated. He knew he could ride that bull. Eventually, he succeeded on Milkman and on many others after that.
It wasn’t just TV cowboys that nurtured Pryor’s rodeo interest. He credits family friend Brett Maurer, who is currently on the Professional Bull Riders Discovery Tour, for providing the spark that really got him going.
Makes you think
It took awhile, Pryor said, to figure out the science behind the sport. There’s more to it than just hoping you can hold on long enough to hear the buzzer.
“You’ve got to put some thought into it,” he said.
Anticipating a bull’s movement and knowing how to react to it makes those eight seconds go a lot faster, Pryor added.
He admits there isn’t a lot of training involved in his career — there aren’t any bucking bulls or an arena on his family farm. Instead, the young cowboy prepares by riding his horses and doing farm work to build strength. He also watches video tapes of past rides and looks for ways to improve.
For several years, Pryor devoted all of his attention to bull riding, but a year ago, he got the urge to try something new and added bareback riding to his portfolio. While he’s improving with the horses, bull riding is still his No. 1 event.
“I’d rather get on a bull because I know what I’m doing,” he said.
Even with several years of experience under his boots, Pryor still gets frustrated when he comes up against a bull he just can’t beat.
“I just don’t really like to get bucked off the same bull a whole bunch of times,” he said. “It irritates me.”
Besides the irritation it causes, being bucked off also leads to a substantial collection of bumps, bruises and broken bones. Pryor said he’s been hit, kicked, thrown in the air, knocked out and stepped on.
But he doesn’t qualify his sport as dangerous. Most of the time, he walks away without injury.
“Does it hurt hitting the ground? No,” Pryor said.
And even when it does hurt, it’s not enough to keep him away from the bulls, broncs and cowboy boots.
Because almost nothing else compares.