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England's Lone Bull Rider
Jul 24, 2013
London, England’s only bull rider did all right at this month’s Burke Stampede Rodeo. He won a special award and did about as well as anyone when it came to staying on a bull for eight seconds.
England’s cowboy is Jamie McDonald, and truth be told he’s more actor than bull rider. He and a friend from New York are making a movie for the Sundance Film Festival, and for some unexplainable reason they decided it might be interesting to film a Londoner’s attempt to ride a bull.
The filmmakers set their sights on the Burke Stampede, and it was a lucky draw. The cowboys and cowgals in Gregory County welcomed them with open arms. Sure you can come film us! Sure you can ride a bull! Sure, we’ll show you how! Sure, you can enter the talent contest! Sure! Sure! Sure! You know how life is in a small town; you can hardly take a walk because everyone wants to give you a ride.
Burke is the epitome of a small town. All 600 people here are busy, because there are barely enough of them — even with a few hundred rural neighbors who help quite a lot — to run the churches, the schools, the picture-perfect Hillcrest Motel, the farmer’s market on Thursdays, the bank and the other essentials of life. Most of the 600 drive pickup trucks because when you live in the Rosebud Country you never know what you might have to haul home (a calf, a dog, a lawn chair made by the shop students at nearby Bonesteel High School, or maybe five bushels of sweet corn).
Bill and Renee Sutton are as busy as any of the 600. They are longtime promoters of the amateur rodeo, and they happily took the film-making blokes under their wings. First, they saddled McDonald on a horse so he could help drive a herd of longhorn cattle down Burke’s main street on Thursday afternoon. It was blistering hot for the cattle drive, but all went well with that.
The Englishman met the rest of the Burke community on Thursday night when he competed in the talent contest along with 18 other contestants for the privilege of singing at the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night rodeos.
Nobody expected McDonald to be a world-class bull rider but we didn’t know if he could sing. He can’t. Still, the crowd still loved his version of a country song tailored to Burke, and though they didn’t want to hear it three more times the judges did give him a special “Entertainer of the Year” award, hand-scribbled on white paper but an honor nevertheless.
So Thursday was a success, but Friday must have been a long day for our English friend. That morning the Suttons invited him to their ranch to practice bull riding. They tried to teach him the basics — how to use the bullrope, where to grip and even how to fall safely.
I don’t know if the minutes pass quickly or slowly on a day when you’re awaiting your first bull. Jamie McDonald looked fairly relaxed as the rodeo got underway with bronc riding and calf roping. Pretty young Katie Eliason, the teenaged winner of the previous night’s talent contest, came out on the catwalk to sing a country song.
Before we knew it, the time had come for bull riding, and readying himself in the first chute was McDonald, looking rather western in a black hat and black shirt. Without hesitation, he sat himself down on the one-ton white bull, gripped the bullrope like he’d done it a thousand times before, and gave a nod that he was ready. With that the cowboys opened the chute.
Perhaps never before did a Burke rodeo crowd watch with so much nervous apprehension. We all saw the menacing white bull leave the chute with the black-dressed cowboy sitting tall, awaiting the worst.
The bull came out of the chute, took four confident steps into the area and then froze. Yes, he stopped, dead in his tracks. He stood there silently, just switching his tail.
Remember, the biggest challenge for a bull rider isn’t style or form but just not getting bucked off for eight seconds. A second passed. Another second. Maybe even another second. Might the Englishman make eight seconds?
Of course not. Somebody in the arena moved. It might have been the clown, or one of the bull fighters there to save the rider from being kicked and gored. Somebody got the bull’s attention and he reacted as bullies always react; he kicked his hind legs high in the air and Jamie McDonald, England’s best bull rider, came thudding down into the thick soft concoction of dirt and sand in the Burke rodeo arena.
The bull fighters sprang into action and diverted the bull’s attention while Jamie scampered to his feet, a big smile on his face and his friend’s camera catching it all, and ran for the white steel fence and safety.
It was a good show and we figure the movie will be even better. Hopefully the busy people of Burke can find time to watch it.