10/04/11 — Ride 'em, cowboys

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Ride 'em, cowboys

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 4, 2011 1:46 PM

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Bull rider Brenden Maready, one of the 2010 top 5 riders in the National Bull Riding Association, holds on during his 8-second ride Monday night at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair as fellow rider Dusty Gaily helps out as a bull handler. Maready finished with a score of 86.5, tied for first heading into tonight's Wicked Bulls competition, which will begin at 7 p.m.

With the music pounding and the crowd cheering, 15 cowboys climbed aboard their bulls Monday night to test their skill and determination against the strength and ferocity of the beast beneath them -- and nine times, they failed.

But for the men risking their safety for those eight seconds of glory, that's just part of the job, and at 7 p.m. tonight, they will climb back on and try again.

With a full midway and plenty of eastern North Carolina agriculture-themed exhibits, the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair might not be the first place somebody would expect to see a full western spectacle, but those involved with Wicked Bull LLC say they get one of their best receptions from the people of Wayne County.

"This is a great event. This is one of my favorite shows here in my home state. I'm glad to be home," rodeo entertainer Austin Stewart said. "We always have a great crowd here."

Making it even better, he said, is the fact that many of the riders -- and all of the bulls -- are from North and South Carolina and Virginia.

"You have the top 15 guys and the top 15 bulls in this part of the country," Stewart said.

And for many of the riders, having such a good event this close by is a welcome change, he said.

Most of them, he said, spend their year traveling across the United States, heading to wherever the next ride is being held.

Cody Funderburk of Pageland, S.C., explained that he got his start riding as a young boy when his father took him to a riding center in their hometown just to try it out.

"He just thought it'd be something fun," he said.

Now he's been traveling the country for the last seven years, riding wherever he can.

"We just got a call that there was a bullriding here and decided to come up," he said. "If we've got the money to get there, we'll go wherever there's a ride."

Himself a Charlotte native and fifth-generation rodeo man, Stewart, 20, said this trip to Goldsboro was the first time he had been back in North Carolina since May, this time coming down from Canada.

"In May, I stopped just long enough to pick up my summer clothes and drop off my winter clothes, and just now I dropped off my summer clothes and picked up my winter clothes. After this, I'll be on the road until the end of the year. I'll have two weeks off and then start it again," he said.

But if any of the riders were showing signs of being road weary, the hundreds of people gathered in the grandstands and around the arena couldn't tell it as the cowboys strapped in, nodded to the handlers manning the gate and then flung their arms in the air as the bulls jumped, bucked, ran and spun their way around the ring.

Judge Carlos Garcia, himself sidelined from riding with a broken arm after being stepped on by a bull, explained that once that gate opens, the two judges are looking for two things -- how difficult the bull is to ride and how well the rider maintains control.

Each judge scores the riders on a 50-point scale -- 25 for the rider and 25 for the bull -- for a total possible score of 100. Acknowledging that it is a subjective method, Garcia explained that they specifically are looking to see how much the bull jumps and bucks and spins, or whether it just runs around, as well as if the rider is able to remain centered on the bull's back or whether he's sliding around, and if he's able to use his spurs, demonstrating that he's "in complete control."

And for most of the riders Monday, those were difficult criteria to meet as the bulls, which seemed to be more ornery than last year's, tossed off rider after rider, some of them landing on their backs, some on their heads and one even dragged for a bit with his hand caught in his wrap.

In the end, though, two cowboys tied with the evening's highest score of 86.5 -- Brandon Chambers of Princeton and 2010 National Bull Riding Association Top 5 rider Brenden Maready of Chinquapin.

"It's a good event. It wasn't good for me, but it's a good event," said rider Travis Finley, 31, of Jacksonville.

There with his 9-year-old son Tanner -- who he said has started riding calves himself -- he's hoping for a better night tonight, with the fair's winner to be determined after tonight's scores are averaged with Monday's.

But while finishing in the money is crucial for the men in the ring, the people in the crowd didn't seem to have a favorite -- they just wanted to see a few good rides.

"They loved it. We come every year," said Rebekah Short, with her family in tow.