OTTUMWA — It was calm and collected at the cowboy breakfast Friday inside Bridge View, until a bull hit the fence and dirt came flying across the room.
The bull riders didn’t mind too much. After all, they’re accustomed to dirt and staying on top of a bull for as long as they can.
The cowboys started the day with a hearty breakfast before preparing for the 2019 Bullriders of America Finals. Following Friday evening’s family night kicked off the competition with Saturday’s celebrity bull riding show.
Bode Spence, Buddy Asher and Casey Coulter are some of the young bull riders participating in the family night show.
Spence is 13 and started riding when he was 7 after getting on a mini walker. Rodeo, he said, is something he has been around, so it was natural for him to take an interest in it. His grandfather Kevin Dessel said he is a third-generation rider.
Asher has been riding for four years. It was a dream of his to start riding when he went to his hometown rodeo. “I saw them and wanted to be like them,” he said.
Coulter, on the other hand, has been riding for 19 years. Like Spence, he had a family member who was a cowboy and raised around riding. It was the thrill of riding that drew him to pursuing it as a career.
“I thought that was pretty cowboy to be a bull rider,” Coulter said. “We seen it on TV when we were kids and wanted to try it.”
None of them have looked back since. It is the excitement of the sport that keeps them riding and audiences coming back each year for a show.
“There’s a lot of danger in it, so when somebody gets wrecked out, they’re always, like, drawn to that,” Spence said.
Dessel chimed in. “It’s kind of like car racing. Why do you go to a car race? You go to see a car race wreck. People come to bull riding to see somebody get wrecked out.”
Inez and Keith Hill, breakfast attendees, agreed. They said it is the excitement of the unexpected that makes crowds wonder how long a rider can stay on.
Keith had a brother who was a bull rider for many years, so he said he knew the ins and outs of what makes a good show. The most important aspect, he said, is knowing what a bull is capable of.
“They have to be familiar with the animal and have an idea of what it takes to stay on that animal,” he said. “When they let him out of the chute like that — he gets wild. He wants that [person] off him immediately. So we’ll see how long that rider can stay on that bull. It’s hard to do with the bull moving around like that.”
Inez and Keith have watched competitions in past years and always come back because of the “great shows.”
And Kevin and Hallie Dessel are excited to help put on these “great shows.” They’ve helped put on the finals in Ottumwa since it started, and it is their 47th year involved in bull riding.
Hallie is the Bullriders of America secretary and treasurer. She keeps track of funds and deals with membership. For the show in Ottumwa, she times the event and tallies up the judges scores. Then she calculates the prize money.
Dessel was a cowboy and then switched to judging after it took a toll on him. He has judged nearly every BOA show in Ottumwa, since it started nine years ago. He recalled the first time.
“We were the first ones to put dirt on this floor [Bridge Center Expo Hall],” he said. “They never had a dirt event until we did it. Buddy [Asher] said they lost their mind. Obviously people enjoy it.”
And Kevin is ready for the crowd to go wild again. He and Hallie guarantee a good time for the ninth year.
“You’ll see good bull riders; we’ve got a funny man,” she said. “We got the best of the best here. We’ve got the best announcer, the best barrel man, the best bullfighters, best riders… I mean, every show is different because you got different riders on different bulls. You just never know exactly what’s gonna happen. You will see some good rides.”
“You’re going to see the top bulls in the country and see them matched up with the top 25 riders,” Kevin said. “It’s going to be a very, very family-friendly show. That’s what everybody can come look forward to. They can look forward to coming and having fun and going home with a smile on their face.”