Riders battle injuries to keep riding

By Brett Hoffman | Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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Though bull riding is billed as rodeo’s most dangerous event, bareback riding is the hardest on a rider’s body during the eight second ride, according to experts.

Justin Sports Medicine Team medical director Dr. Tandy Freeman of Dallas cited experiences at the December Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas that backs up that claim.

During the NFR, the top 15 competitors in each standard rodeo event ride for 10 consecutive daily performances. Bareback riders noticeably asked for the most help.

“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 by far is the toughest of the three bucking stock riding events.

Appleton said saddle bronc riding is easier because “the power of the horse is absorbed by the saddle and the style of riding. 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.”

Appleton said bareback riders endure lots of force.

“In bareback riding, you are holding on to what looks like a suitcase handle it’s tied to 1,200 pounds and it’s 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,” he said.

Bull riding is billed as rodeo’s most dangerous event because riders can be fatally hit or stomped by a bull. 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.

During a PBR show in Denver in January, former world finals qualifier Mason Lowe, 25, of Exeter, Mo., was killed by a bull. 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 than roughstock riders. For example, roper Trevor Brazile, of Decatur, who turned pro in 1996, clinched a record 14th world all-around title at the 2018 National Finals at age 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 with a blistering time of 7.2 seconds.

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.

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.

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

“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.


Haven Meged, a Tarleton State student, clinched the tie-down roping title at the PRCA’s Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Fla., after turning in a 7.4 in the final round. Meged, a PRCA rookie, earned $22,744.

Meged competed for Tarleton in a collegiate rodeo in Sweetwater Friday. He then boarded a plane and flew to Florida where he competed in the National Circuit Finals Saturday and Sunday.


After competing in the March 21-23 Ranger College Rodeo in Sweetwater, Clarendon College is ranked No. 1 in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Southwest Region men’s team title race. Weatherford College is second and Tarleton State third.

The Ranger College Rodeo was the seventh of 10 regular season shows scheduled for the 2018-2019 regular season in the Southwest Region.

Tarleton State is ranked No. 1 in the women’s team title race. Weatherford College is second.


On the PBR circuit, Chase Outlaw of Hamburg, Ark., clinched the title at the Unleash The Beast tour stop in Kansas City, Mo., and earned $37,816.

Outlaw took the lead in the PBR’s world title race over 2017 world champion Jess Lockwood, 2,227.5 to 2,097.5. Jo o Ricardo Vieira, a Brazilian who lives in Decatur, is ranked third with 2,050. Vieira was bucked off of both of his bulls in the prelims at Kansas City.

Brett Hoffman, a Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame member, has reported on rodeos and horse shows for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than three decades.

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