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Riding a 1,500-pound bull is dangerous, but it’s not as treacherous as this rodeo event

Fort Worth Stock Show Super Shootout Rodeo

A video compilation of Bareback and Saddle Bronc riding in the Fort Worth Super Shootout sponsored by Schaefer ranch wear. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley
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A video compilation of Bareback and Saddle Bronc riding in the Fort Worth Super Shootout sponsored by Schaefer ranch wear. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

At age 38, Cody DeMoss can bust a rampaging rodeo bronc on a world class level.

One of the more likely reasons the 13-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier has had a long career is because he competes in saddle bronc riding, an event that’s physically less stressful than the other two bucking stock riding events, bareback riding and bull riding.

“The [saddle] bronc riding takes longer to learn, but once you’ve learned it, you can do it longer for sure,” DeMoss said.

DeMoss made that abundantly clear at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on Jan. 24 when he finished second in the saddle bronc riding title race with a lofty score of 88.5 in a competition called Rodeo X that featured credentialed competitors at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum.

While bull riding is billed as the sport’s most dangerous event because injuries typically are more serious, bareback riding is the hardest on a rider’s body during the eight second ride, said Dallas’ Tandy Freeman, the medical director of the Justin Sports Medicine Program, which is providing treatment for competitors at the Stock Show and Rodeo.

“Bareback riding, with the equipment that they use today, they’re basically putting themselves in a position where from their hand, all the way up to their neck, and then all the way down their spine and even above the neck, into their head, they’re basically putting themselves through G-forces that you don’t see to the same degree in the other events and it occurs every time that they got on,” Freeman said.

Freeman cited experiences at the December Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as an example. During the NFR, the top 15 competitors in each standard rodeo event ride for 10 consecutive daily performances at the Thomas & Mack Center where bareback riders noticeably ask for more medical treatment.

“If you walk into the Justin Sports medicine training room during the NFR about Round 5 or 6, we may have about 10 or 12 of the bareback riders getting treated,” Freeman said. “Typically, before the NFR is over, it will be between 12 and 15 of them who have had to make a trip to the training room. Whereas the bull riders, it probably is half that number. The majority of the bareback riders are in there and that’s not true of any other event.”

Dave Appleton, the 1988 world all-around champion from Fort Worth who competed in bareback riding and saddle bronc riding, said bareback riding is by far the toughest of the three bucking stocks events on a cowboy during the ride.

Appleton said saddle bronc riding is easier because, “the power of the horse is absorbed by the saddle and the style of how you ride. You are lifting on a buck rein. You are going to take a little bit of a jerk if you get out of shape, but never anywhere near what you what you take in the bareback riding.

“In bareback riding, you are holding on to what looks like a suitcase handle. Its tied to 1,200 pounds and its going in six different directions and all of the force is coming up through that handle into the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist and every other part of your body.”

Bull riding is billed as rodeo’s most dangerous event because riders can be fatally hit by a bull or stomped once they’re on the ground after an attempted or qualified ride. Bulls can weigh between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds and they can strike a rider so hard that even a protective vest is not enough to prevent a serious internal injury or death.

That was the case on Jan. 15 during a Professional Bull Riders show at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. Former PBR World Finals qualifier Mason Lowe, 25, of Exeter, Mo., was killed by a bull that he had attempted to ride. He was bucked off of his bull, which suddenly stepped on his chest. He was transported to Denver Health Medical Centre where he died.

According to reports, Lowe was wearing a protective vest, which could not absorb the blow. Lowe suffered a “massive chest injury that caused damage to his heart,” PBR officials said.

Timed event competitors by far have it easier.

Roper Trevor Brazile, of Decatur, who turned pro in 1996, clinched a record 14th world all-around title at the 2018 National Finals. At 42, he was the eldest to compete at the Las Vegas championships in tie-down roping. He secured the all-around title when he won the 10th and final round of tie-down roping with a blistering time of 7.2 seconds.

Brazile said the availability of sports medicine for rodeo competitors has made a big difference. The Justin Sports Medicine Program was founded in the early 1980s.

“When you have the ability to go get an MRI and make an educated decision about taking time off, whether I take three weeks off and help the injury heal or verses keeping going another month, but I have to stop and have surgery, that’s huge to be able to have the foresight of that at your disposal,” Brazile said.

Brazile also competes in steer roping and team roping, two events that typically are less stressful. Team ropers have longevity because they do not have to dismount from their horses and down an animal unlike tie-down ropers, steer ropers or steer wrestlers (who have a tendency to sustain knee injuries).

At last year’s FWSSR in February, former PRCA world champion Walt Woodard, of Stephenville, clinched the team roping heeling title at 62. The next month, Woodard and his heading partner, Matt Sherwood, lassoed the team roping title at the Houston Livestock Show Rodeo.

Barrel racers have longer careers. At 68, barrel racer Mary Burger became the oldest National Finals qualifier and the oldest rider to clinch a world title on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association/Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit in 2016.

Barrel racers’ big concern mostly is leg and shin injuries from hitting barrels. They also can seriously become injured when a horse falls in the arena.

Matt Brockman, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo’s spokesperson, said competitors have more longevity overall because of better sports medicine and paying more attention to physical fitness.

“Thank goodness our rough stock riders and timed event guys are in great physical shape,” Brockman said. “They have to be because of the sheer power of these animals that we’re running under these cowboys these days is just amazing. We often like to say that rodeo is the original extreme sport, but it’s more extreme today than it was 40 years ago.”

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