I like to see and experience things, if only so that I can have a readily available story to tell or anecdote to share. I have seen kangaroo boxing in Australia and midget wrestling in Thailand. Heck, I’ve even seen Canadian football — go Saskatchewan Roughriders! But for far too long I had neglected something in my very own back yard.

I had the opportunity to right that wrong Sunday when I trekked over to Marion to watch the 2013 Southern Pride Bull Bash.

That’s a bull riding competition for you newbies.

For years I had incorrectly assumed that bull riding was something done at the amateur level, something done at state fairs and summer festivals. It turned out I was wrong.

Bull riding is serious business, folks.

This event was just one stop on the 70-plus venue Championship Bull Riding Tour, which culminates at the Road to Cheyenne CBR Finale Tour on July 22 and 23 in Cheyenne, Wyo. The winning rider will be awarded $100,000 in prize money.

And thanks to a contract signed with FOX Sports Network in 2012, Championship Bull Riding is now available to more than 14 million viewers nationwide.

Serious business, indeed.

When I arrived at the event, I noticed it very much had the look and feel of those carnivals and state fairs I frequented so often as a young boy. There were games for children to play, beer for the adults and a lot of tasty food. Funnel cakes? Yes, please.

But what of the actual bull riding? I had never seen bull riding in person before, and I certainly had never ridden one of those giant animals. The closest to bull riding I had ever been was a short-lived ride on the mechanical bull at the enlisted club in Hawaii. I did not fare well.

After I saw the first couple of riders come out of the gate, I knew that the actual riding of the bulls was just as serious as the business side of things. It takes strength, confidence, poise and courage to willingly hop on top of a 1,200-pound animal that does not want you there.

That notion was driven home about six or seven riders into the competition.

Rider Ryan Parks came out of the gate for his turn and rode briefly before being bucked off by his bull. Somewhere between being thrown off and recovering, Parks took a 1,000-pound bull’s head to the chest.

Ouch.

Parks was attended to by EMTs and was taken to the event ambulance for diagnosis and possible transportation to the hospital. It was unknown whether he was taken, but he was conscious and alert as he was being looked at.

Perhaps the most enlightening moment of the day came when I had the opportunity to speak with Greg Talbert, owner of Talbert Bucking Bulls in Cheyenne Wells, Colo.

Talbert explained to me that in addition to farming and ranching, he also owns and enters bulls into bull riding competitions across the country. That introduced a dynamic to the sport that I had never contemplated.

While the riders were competing for their eight seconds of glory and a chance at prize money, bull owners were also competing. Bulls are graded on such things as kicking, turn backs, intensity and speed.

Talbert went on to say he knew of bull owners who had pulled in more than $300,000 in a single year entering their bulls into competition. Some of these earnings will ultimately be negated by operating expenses, animal care and transportation costs, but again, this is a serious business.

Unfortunately my time was cut short because of a heavy rainstorm, but I was able to ask Mr. Talbert one final question before I was forced to seek out drier land.

Asked if he had any experience riding bulls for competition, he responded immediately, followed by a short chuckle.

“I’ve never ridden a bull; I’ve never wanted to ride a bull. They’re animal athletes.”

I was inclined to agree with him.

JACK CAVANAUGH is a sports clerk for The Southern Illinoisan. He can be reached at jack.cavanaugh@thesouthern.com.

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