Eight seconds might not sound like much, but on the back of a massive twisting, jumping, angry bull, it’s a long time. Rudy Borntrager is a professional bull rider-- the kind who stays seated on a ton of fury and doesn’t let go until the eight-second buzzer sounds.
Borntrager’s been riding bulls for 11 years. Every summer he and his family spend months travelling the country attending rodeos where Borntrager competes for both title and prizes. At the height of the season, they’ll attend a rodeo six days of the week.
He first rode a bull when he was 17 years old. Before that, he’d never been to a rodeo. When he watched bull riding with his brother, who was also into the sport, he became interested.
Borntrager grew up Amish and trained horses when he was young. He thinks that might have drawn him to the sport.
“You always get that feeling of excitement when you get on a horse that bucks and doesn’t throw you off,” Borntrager said. “I’m not sure if it was that or not, but it had that kind of resemblance.”
With the help of his brother and his brother’s buddies, with tips on what and what not to do, Borntrager rode a bull for the first time.
“I had no idea what to expect, it happened so quick. When the shoot came open to when I hit the ground, I do not remember the ride. It was just enough to get me a taste of it, and I wanted more of it,” he said.
His first ride was brief.
“I actually kind of landed on my head and got a concussion, the first bull I rode,” Borntrager said. “I got to feeling better and said to my brother, ‘I think I want to do this.’”
While he may not have lasted long on the bull for his first ride, he improved quickly enough to make it to the state finals in his first year of riding.
Bull riding is scored by two judges with a maximum of 100 points available. There are two judges, and each can award the rider up to 50 points. Of those 50, up to 25 are awarded for how well the bull bucks, and up to 25 are awarded for how well the rider rides.
In order to get a qualifying score, though, the rider must stay on the bull for eight seconds, and he must have one hand in the air. The hand in the air must not touch the bull.
An average score, Borntrager said, is from 80-85 points. “Above 85 and it gets to be a pretty good ride,” Borntrager said. His best score? An impressive 90.
Borntrager said bull riding means being ready for anything.
“One (bull) can go out and spin nice, and one can go out and play dirty tricks,” Borntrager said.
He said the feeling of bull riding is great, but even better is the sound of the buzzer when the 8 seconds is up. The physical aspect of bull riding is only part of the sport, he said.
“It’s a mental thing. If you have something on your mind or you’re worried about something… you’ve got to have a clear head if you want to be able to ride for eight seconds. It seems like if you don’t it can go in a bad way real quick.”
If it does go bad, Borntrager said that often the adrenaline carries bull riders through. After they get off the bull and hit the ground, they can be stepped on or run over. Often, though, they don’t even realize it until five to ten minutes later, when the adrenaline wears off.
After 11 years of riding, Borntrager has a wall of bull riding trophies and belt buckles, including the title of 2013 champion of the Midwest Bull Rider’s Association.
In addition to the excitement and adrenaline of bull riding, Borntrager said he likes the cowboy lifestyle, and the friends he and his family meet on the road. Just as he can’t let go of the bull, he’s also not letting go of bull riding.