The Great Frontier Bull Riding rodeo begins at seven in the evening, when there is still a good two hours of soft light remaining. Not the harsh, bright kind that exists in the mid-afternoon, where peak hours can cause lines of exhaustion and traces of sweat on the faces of nearly all Winona County fairgoers. No, the time is late enough that the fading sunlight paints a backdrop of pastels — periwinkle, lilac, pale tangerine and cotton candy pink.
Photo by Amelia Wedemeyer
. On Thursday, July 10, Jake Weber won the Great Frontier Bull Riding event at the Winona County Fair.
The crowd in the grandstand waits for the show to begin, settling into their seats with snacks and beverages, while the bull riders (also called cowboys) and bulls sit back behind the bucking chutes, waiting for it all to start.
“There’s really nothing like it,” a young woman said as she shifted her gaze from the group of friends she arrived with toward the direction of the open grandstand.
The American rodeo
The goal for each bull rider is to last eight seconds. Eight seconds on a raging bull that wants nothing but to buck the rider off its back. In each series of eight-second attempts, the crowd watches as each bull becomes obsessed in its quest to rid the rider from its back, contorting itself in the air as if possessed by some demonic spirit. For some riders, eight seconds is a long time to hold on, but if you ask Jake Weber, eight seconds is not as bad as it seems. “When I’m standing on the back of the bucking shoot, sure, there are nerves going through you,” he explained. “But once I sit down all that disappears and I can’t really hear anyone or anything. It pretty much goes quiet and I’m in the zone and ready to go.”
Twenty-six-year-old Weber is from Barron, Wis. He makes his living traveling across the country and entering rodeos and bull riding contests, which take him from Texas to Utah to North Dakota — pretty much anywhere there are bulls to be ridden. “There’s a few different circuits I ride in,” Weber said of his schedule. “Coming up in the next 18 days I’ll be riding 14 out of the 18. I’ll get home Sunday night, and Monday morning I’ll have practice and hit the road again.”
A cowboy can win anywhere from $1,500 to $55,000 in a single ride, so for men who make their living like Weber, it’s important to stay on the bull for the entire eight seconds. “They judge you and the bull,” he explained. “There’s a possible 50 points for the bull and 50 for you, normally there are two judges and each one will mark 1 to 25 for bull and 1 to 25 for rider.”
The bulls are judged on their speed and how hard they kick, while the rider is judged on his ability to control the animal. It’s a dangerous sport, which is why they wear helmets similar to the ones hockey players wear, and vests to protect themselves from a bull who might be looking for a little retribution. “The injuries would be the only thing [I don’t like about bull riding,]” Weber said.
One of the craziest moments for Weber, who has been riding bulls since he was 18 but has been interested in the sport since he was little, occurred a few years back when he was participating in a rodeo in North Dakota. “It was supposed to be the best bull they had and I was riding him and lost a little bit of control, and my hand got stuck in the rope — he pretty much dragged me around the arena, and I ended up breaking my leg,” he remembered. “I went for a couple of weeks without going to the doctor and realizing I had a broken leg. It’s pretty much how I made my money, so I wanted to keep competing.”
Weber’s dedication to bull riding has paid off with consistent wins and a good shot of making it to the National Finals Rodeo — “the SuperBowl of rodeos,” he said.
His latest win was first place at the Winona County Fair, at which, when asked, he said that he earned “a good amount” of money. It’s a nice bonus to a job Weber is appreciative of. “I love every aspect of bull riding,” he explained. “It’s an adrenaline rush each time you get on. It’s man against beast and there is no way to really explain it.”