I will black out when I ride my bull, expert says

What the Heckle? Column by Benn Farrell

Posted 2/15/11

If you want to learn a new trade, it’s easy to ask an expert. If you can find one. I finally did. After weeks of trying to find a professional or …

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I will black out when I ride my bull, expert says

What the Heckle? Column by Benn Farrell


If you want to learn a new trade, it’s easy to ask an expert. If you can find one.

I finally did.

After weeks of trying to find a professional or even amateur bull rider along the Front Range, I remembered that once, years ago, I had met a retired rodeo star named Abe Morris at one of the pro bull riding events at the Douglas County Fair that year. He was promoting his book at the time, titled “My Cowboy Hat Still Fits,” which he wrote about his years in rodeo and riding bulls.

Abe has long retired from bull riding and is now a Prudential securities agent and resides in Aurora. Although he has won championships, he’s never been classified a world champion, even though he said he was good enough to compete in the finals. He just never qualified.

The reason I e-mailed him, having found his business card among the pile of contact information I keep, is a while ago I decided to learn and train to ride a bull in a rodeo setting. In the process, I’ve talked to my personal trainer about adjusting my weights and core training.

I’ve also gotten more core training ideas from the personnel at the newly opened Tri-Lakes Fitness Center in Monument.

But I knew I wouldn’t get far unless I counseled with someone who rides bulls regularly, or has, and learn what to expect, what to focus on and what gear may be involved. Abe Morris, once I remembered meeting him, was my best bet.

When I called Abe, he said he actually remembered meeting me. Nice to know his memory is still intact. In addition, I quickly learned he had since written a second book, this one regarding his unusual courtroom battle and lengthy bureaucracy to earn custody of his son Justin, also the title of the new book. More information on both books can be found at www.abemorris.com.

I also learned he is a rodeo writer and columnist, from which he drew a built-in audience for his book of rodeo stories.

It was snowing badly when I showed up at Abe’s house in Aurora. 9 News had just been out to his house to do a story on him a few days before, so it was convenient for me that all his press clippings, books and other marketing items of his career in the rodeo was already spread across his living room.

His dirt-soaked gear is what he showed me first. Apparently, the gear I would need to ride my bull was rope, glove, protective vest, chaps, a good set of cowboy boots and a hat or a helmet.

Since I’m not a cowboy, I wasn’t going to do my ride with a cowboy hat. One, I don’t think I could pull it off, and two, I’d rather wear a helmet with the face cage anyway. It’d remind me of my days playing hockey.

The vest, which Abe said is mandatory in bull riding now, the glove and the rope, he said I should simply borrow unless I planned on bull riding regularly. That makes sense, but despite the weight I’ve lost in the last two years, I don’t know anyone who would have a vest that would fit me.

The boots, Abe said, I should just buy. I think I’ll buy my own glove too. Craigslist may be where I look for the other stuff first, unless I can find a store that would be willing to sponsor me with some gear.

Abe gave me tricks to the gear, ways to ensure my rope doesn’t shift from my hand, my hand doesn’t shift from my glove, my feet don’t shift from my boots. Basically, I’ll have to buy a bunch of athletic tape and strap everything down.

At first, Abe kept saying he used to use a leather thong to tie down his glove. Being as uneducated on the subject as I am, I couldn’t imagine why he would wrap underwear around his wrist to keep his glove from shifting. I eventually learned better. Glad I didn’t open my mouth on that one.

After Abe went through the gear, he gave me a few things to expect and a few pointers. He told me, on my actual ride or practice rides, when I first launch out of the chute I should keep my torso as low as it can go to receive that initial buck, without worrying about the bulls horns jerking up and impaling my skull. Oh yeah, sure. Done deal.

I had to laugh. Abe said bull riding was dangerous, yes, but people didn’t get hurt as often as one would think. In the course of afternoon however, he mentioned it was a hip injury, which still pops today, that eventually ended his bull riding career. In addition, he showed me a shin guard he wore regularly on his left leg to protect the pins set around his knee, the result of yet another bull riding injury.

Yeah, hardly anyone gets hurt doing this. Maybe he meant in all the years he’d been competing, he wasn’t hurt that often. What injuries he did have though seemed to be doozies.

In all the time I spent with Abe, one think stuck out in my mind when he said it. In fact, I laughed out loud.

“I’m going to tell you right now,” he said. “Since it’s your first time riding a bull, you are going to black out.”

Abe said I would probably remember launching from the chute, but after that I wouldn’t remember much until it was all over. I couldn’t help but laugh. This whole thing is supposed to be something to cross off my bucket list. And I’m not even going to remember it? Abe said it’d take close to 10 rides before I would start to remember actually staying on the bull.

That got me thinking. Maybe I should try and get on the back of a bull for a couple of rides prior to my actual exhibition ride in a rodeo setting, that way, when I do it for real under the lights, I have a better chance of doing well and actually having a memory of it besides all my friends taking video, waiting for me to make a fool of myself.

The other thing Abe said that stuck with me was, “Even the most experienced bull rider is scared when he gets on that bull. If they tell you they aren’t scared, they are lying.”

That made me feel better actually. Of course I’m nervous to do this — nervous as in excited, but this project has the element of death to it. So, yeah, I’m a little scared to do it, but that’s the whole point. Facing the fear, surviving and moving forward in my life that much more confident is why I’m doing this.

Abe later gave me the contact info for a couple of outfits in Colorado who could maybe get me on the back of a bull before I do the real thing. That sounded exciting.

One was in Larkspur, a weekly event Abe called a “buck off.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like something I say when a debt collector calls. The other is an actual bull riding academy for a week in March, south of Colorado Springs. I’m going to hit them both up and let you know how it goes.

In addition, I’ve been referred to a Judo instructor to help me learn to fall safely. Not sure if that’ll help when I actually go for my ride, especially if I’m blacking out by that point, but it can’t hurt to know how regardless.

We produced a video of my visit with Abe Morris. It’ll be posted to my blog when it’s finished at www.bennfarrell.wordpress.com.

The more I hear about bull riding, the more I’m getting excited. I have other challenges on the horizon after this, assuming I survive it. If disaster strikes, my next series of columns may be my first wheelchair race or Murderball bout.

It’ll take more than a few pins in my knee to stop me, but I better start lifting more weights.


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