Honey, I shrunk the bulls.
And their riders.
As crazy as it sounds for grown men to climb on the backs of angry, bucking bovine and try to hang on (one-handed, no less) for eight seconds, we can think of one thing that seems even crazier.
Kids doing it.
Nevertheless, that very thing — the next generation of the roughest of rough stock cowboys — will be on full display this weekend at the PMBR Finals in Ogden. The event begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, and continues nightly through Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Golden Spike Event Center.
PMBR stands for Professional Miniature Bull Riders, an Idaho-based nonprofit organization that teaches bull riding and life skills to children ages 14 and younger. Sandi Landon, director of the PMBR event, said the organization started out last year with a smaller event in Rexburg, Idaho. This year’s event is bigger, and organizers hope to make the finals an annual affair at the Weber County Fairgrounds.
“We decided to form the PMBR because we wanted to give kids a platform to be educated in rodeo, and to feel the camaraderie of the cowboy way,” Landon said.
In the old days, according to Landon, almost all cowboys rode rough stock — those rodeo events involving bucking horses and bulls. But nowadays, she says, rough stock is “kind of a dying breed” at rodeos.
One of the reasons, according to Landon, was that young, aspiring rodeo athletes would go straight from mutton busting, or riding sheep, to riding full-size bulls.
“And kids were getting injured,” Landon said. “So miniature bulls are like the step in between.”
A full-size bull weighs somewhere between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds. A mini bull is closer to 700 to 1,200 pounds.
But aside from the size of the bull, everything else about the children’s sport is the same. Contestants must wear a mouthpiece, protective vest and other safety gear. They have to ride the bull for eight seconds, using only one hand. Judges can award up to 50 points apiece for bull and rider.
At this weekend’s finals, a total of 43 young bull riders from five western states (Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Utah) and Canada will compete in three age divisions — Rookies, age 8 and younger; Juniors, ages 9-11; and Seniors, ages 12-14. A champion will be declared in each division, with a reserve champion, or second-place finisher, also designated.
“I always say they’re little guys with big attitudes,” Landon said.
The finalists were selected from the top 10 point-getting bull riders in their respective states; Landon said they hope to expand the finals competition to other states in the future.
This year’s finals will feature a special performance by Lacee Schliesser, a 14-year-old trick rider, as well as what Landon calls the world’s youngest bullfighter, at age 16.
The miniature bulls used in PMBR are bred for their characteristics, and Landon says they’re every bit as ornery as the full-size ones.
“People say it’s a mini bull, but they pack a huge attitude,” she said. “My son rides them, and the first time he rode I said, ‘That’s not a mini bull, that’s a full-size bull with little legs!’”
Landon’s son was the Utah and Idaho state champion last year. This weekend will be his last PMBR event — he’ll turn 14 and age out of the sport in December.
Landon said a lot of parents don’t want their kids learning to ride bulls, so they never teach them the proper techniques for avoiding injuries.
“I had one parent ask how I could let my son ride bulls,” Landon recalls. “But I said, ‘He’s going to do it in the backyard with friends when I’m not looking anyway, so I’d rather teach him to be safe.’”
Injuries are a part of the sport. Landon’s son once rode with a broken collarbone, another young cowboy rode with a broken arm.
“We make them get a full doctor’s release,” she said. “The goal is not to injure them, but these kids will try to bribe the doctor so they can go ahead and ride anyway.”
Landon said part of the PMBR instruction is teaching the kids to know when to let their bodies heal and rest.
“Winning is one thing, but there’s more to life. We tell them, ‘There’s always another rodeo,’” she said. “We’re teaching kids about bull riding, but we want them to learn more about the sport than just the eight seconds of glory. We want them to know how to win in and out of the arena.”