Jay Pahlke understood exactly why Harve Stewart opted to ride a second bull in the first round of Saturday night's Professional Bull Rider's event.
"It depends on the guy," said Pahlke, who won the night's competition with a score of 86.5. "I'm the type of guy who is going to try get himself in the best position to win. You have to do all you can to win."
Saturday night the bulls in the finals were so tough not one of the 12 riders managed to stay on. Pahlke's winning score came in the qualifying round on a bull named Cat's Meow. He respected Stewart's decision to ride a second bull in the preliminary round despite scoring 70 points on the first bull. He was offered a re-ride when the bull stumbled. Stewart scored 85.5 points on the second bull, Blue Moon, which was good enough for third place.
"I came in here to win first," said Stewart, a 20-year-old Texas native. "I wasn't going to win anything with 70 points. If I ever have a chance, I'm going to take it."
That paid off as the finals were so brutal only one man even came close to staying on for the required eight seconds. That was Douglas Duncan, another Texas cowboy, who stayed on Old Yeller 7.56 seconds.
"It doesn't happen very often, ever, that no one rides in the finals," said Pahlke, who rides only in the PBR because he can make more money when he wins.
Tate Stratton qualified for the finals with a score of 83.5, good enough for fourth place despite being unable to stay on Tighty Whitey, a bull that was awarded second place by judges. Stratton, who also rides bulls at PRCA rodeos said he's just grateful to be taking chances again after nearly a year and a half of time off due to injuries.
"I got hurt last April (groin injury) and just when I started coming back, I fractured my eye," he said. He went back to school and finished in December in animal science. But instead of putting that degree to good use, he bought his PRCA card and started riding bulls again.
"I love it," said the 23-year-old. "I missed it. It drove me absolutely insane not to be riding. I couldn't watch it on T.V.; I couldn't talk to my friends who did it. I just love riding bulls."
Andrew Heaps knows a little about loving a sport from the sideline. Heaps was smacked in the neck by a bull last year in the same PBR event hosted by the Days of 47 Rodeo at EnergySolutions Arena.
"I thought I had a broken neck," he said. "They took me in an ambulance up to the hospital and I thought I was going to be alright."
After x-rays confirmed he didn't have any broken bones, he started wondering when they might release him. But a severe concussion, doctors said, would require him to stay in the hospital overnight.
"I was sitting there by my grandma and all of a sudden I couldn't talk," Heaps said. "I could think in my head what I wanted to say, but I couldn't talk. I started freaking out a little bit. It scared me pretty bad."
It turned out, Heaps had a stroke from a blood clot caused by the bulls' horn hitting his neck. He has had to have a stint put in and he takes blood thinners. He also had to re-learn everything.
"I had to learn to read and write all over again," he said. "That was the hardest, most stressful thing I've ever experienced in my life. I was depressed a lot over it."
His parents' support helped him stick with it and he is now finishing helicopter school. He attended Saturday night's event and said walking into the arena caused his chest to tighten a little.
"It make me nervous," he said. "I had somewhat of a panic attack, but I started helping guys out and I felt a lot better."
Heaps said what will really complete the circle for him will be to get back on a bull himself.
"They said I could go back to riding in the fall," he said. "They did tell me if I get hit there again I would probably bleed to death ... I just love riding bulls though."
Saturday's PBR event also rewards the animals. Each stock contractor pays $1000 per bull and the animals can win money just like the cowboys they're trying to buck off. Little Juicy won the event with Tighty Whitey coming in second. Rupert 497 took third and Wolf Tickets was fourth.
Little Juicy and Wolf Tickets are related to the famous bull, Wolfman, on the cow side. They're owned by Don and Janelle Kish, who drove the bulls from California yesterday to compete just one night.
"The travel is tough on them," said Janelle Kish, who drove 711 miles to compete. "They are very hot, very nervous acting, and you need them to be able to think in the arena or you have nothing...They travel with food and water in separate compartments. They have very cushy conditions."
The bulls who competed Saturday will go home to California and likely have a month off. She said that while they hope their bull is unrideable, if he is going to be ridden, they want the cowboy to score big."I'm not going to tell you we don't respect a good bull ride," she said. "If a cowboy rides them, we want it to be a 90-plus point ride. They're young (three almost four years old) and their success long-term depends on how many times they can buck guys off. If they get in the chute and are ridden every time, they'll lose their incentive."