Throughout history there has always been a draw to events where man is pitted against some of nature’s most fearsome and ferocious beasts.
There is no definite reason as to why man vs. beast is such a crowd-pleasing form of entertainment. Perhaps it is due to pure human nature — an innate sense of control that has been instilled since the beginning of time.
Whatever the reason may be, events such as the rodeo can draw immensely large numbers of attendees all over the country. While the rodeo is popular, it is the sport of bull riding that has taken center stage.
It is important to note that the bulls possess about 2 tons of athletic ability themselves.
One person who can attest to the athleticism of the bucking bulls is Coy Keck, who has spent the past 20 years raising them.
Keck operates alongside Maury Tate and Jeff Zgonina of the MoBetta Bull Company out of Apache, Okla.
Six to eight times a year, Keck makes the journey to Oklahoma to check on his ranch and see how his bulls are developing.
The sport of rodeo has become highly scientific and when it comes to the world of bucking bulls, genetics reigns supreme.
“I try to keep the best genetics, because it all comes down to genetics. They’ve either got it or they don’t,” Keck explained.
Once they are weaned, all bulls and heifers are DNA registered. They are then registered with American Bucking Bull Inc. (ABBI).
The sport has advanced so much of late that breeders can sex the embryos or even clone a prized bull if they have the finances available.
While the Cleveland stock contractor hasn’t chosen to have any embryos sexed, he has seen Tate and Zgonina have a rather high level of success with it.
Virtually all of Keck’s bulls have a lineage that traces back to one bull — the bull who’s DNA got Keck and MoBetta Bull Company started.
“When we got started we began our breeding to a bull called Houdini, who is by far one of the best producers out of any bull out there,” Keck said. “Some bulls that are really good buckers are not necessarily good sires. Some bulls are just good producers.”
Houdini, who died in 2010, is referred to by those in the industry as a prolific breeder which is evident by the caliber of his descendants. One of the MoBetta bulls sired by him, Red River, was the 2011 PRCA Bull of the year runner-up at the National Finals Rodeo.
Once the bulls reach 2 years of age they are put through a test that either makes or breaks them.
“When they are 2 years old we put a dummy, a mechanical device that weighs 28 pounds, on them to see what they’ve got. If they show any kind of promise we keep them and go from there,” Keck said. ”I will not buck these bulls for another year. I take better care of them than most people do their house pets.”
In an attempt to keep the stress and strain of traveling to a minimum for the bulls, as well as because of time constraints, Keck doesn’t transport anything more than about 1,000 miles.
There are a number of factors Keck looks for in a potential bucking bull.
“We want something that turns back right in the gate, getting into that spin and kicking,” Keck described. “When they get into that spin they have a better chance of getting the rider off. A smart one will feel the rider go off to one side and do what they have to do to get him off. They either have the ability to buck or they don’t.”
While the size of a bull is an important factor, it is the athleticism of the animal that most interests Keck.
“We try to take the cornerback and the lineman and try to get a linebacker because he’s usually the most athletic right in the middle,” Keck explains through a football analogy. “We’re trying to get buckability and athletic ability.”
Bulls that do not display any of the aforementioned characteristics are culled.
During his last trip out to Oklahoma, Keck and the MoBetta Bull Company witnessed something remarkable when test bucking their newest batch of bulls.
“We were real lucky; these bulls were born in 2011. We bucked 24 bulls and culled only two, which is unheard of. You’re usually lucky to get 1 out of 5. We’ve done real selective breeding,” Keck proudly stated.
Those 22 bulls that passed with flying colors will receive names once the stock contractors are sure that they will make it.
As with any sport, there are often a few common misconceptions when it comes to bull riding.
Some spectators believe the flank rope ties up or binds the bull’s genitals, while in reality the rope is lose enough to run your hand under. The sole purpose of a flank rope is to encourage the bulls to kick, plain and simple.
It is also commonly thought that bucking bulls are a mean bunch, when in reality the majority of the animals are the exact opposite.
One of the sport’s most ornery bulls of all time, and a ProRodeo Hall of Famer, Bodacious is one such example.
While Bodacious was known as a bone breaker in the arena, he was actually nice enough that he would eat right out of the palm of your hand.
“Bodacious was not mean at all. Most of the bulls in a pasture will run from you, but if you get them in a tight spot it’s a different ball game — they will try to escape,” Keck said of the temperament of most bulls. “You put them in the shoot and they know that they have a job to do and they’ll do it.”
While the majority of the bucking bulls in the rodeo have decent temperaments, there are still those bulls that possess quite an attitude. Keck’s bull, Whippin Post, is one of those bulls.
“You get some that have an attitude. I’ve got some; my bull that made the finals has an attitude. He wants to hurt someone,” Keck said of his feisty bull.
This past December Keck was pleasantly surprised when Whippin Post made it to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“The National Finals Rodeo is the Super Bowl of the rodeo,” Keck commented. “Everybody’s goal is to get to the Finals. The payout is about 10 times what a regular rodeo pays, plus you earn notoriety.”
Cody Whitney was the unlucky rider to draw Whippin Post, and was bucked off in four seconds. Whitney was no newcomer to the bull, having drawn him in a PRCA event four months prior and being bucked off in 3.91 seconds.
Whippin Post came from a mother who was out of Wolfman and Gunslinger, while his father was Born to Buck
In a total of 18 attempts, Whippin Post has only been ridden once. That sole ride came from Brazilian bull riding star Guilherme Marchi on the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Tour this past January.
Besides Marchi’s 8-second ride, no other rider has managed to make it past the 4-second mark on Whippin Post, according to probullstats.com.
For stock contractors like Keck, the goal is always to see their bulls perform well, make it to the top of their sport, and be recognized for their performances.
“In the PRCA, the bulls get graded and at the end of the year, like for the finals. The cowboys vote to see which are the best and they take the top 100 bulls,” Keck commented.
Much like any other athlete, the bulls have to work their way up in the rodeo the same way that the cowboys do.
“Rodeo is a lot like baseball in that you have different levels like Single A, Double A, Triple A and the major leagues. Everybody has to start somewhere, but a guy who is just starting out is not going to start on a bull like Whippin Post. There is a need for all levels of bulls,” Keck explained. “Each time you go to the next level the competition is better — the riders are better and the bulls are better.”