Well, that escalated quickly.

When I came to you a week ago when I was roped into the bull riding event at the 4th of July, I’ll admit there was a big part of it that was supposed to be a gimmick. By the time they pulled the bucking chute Thursday night, it was as real as it gets.

Sure, old “J.J.” was a Dexter breed, meaning he only grows to be about half the size of his brethren, which is just over three feet tall, but he was still about 600 pounds and not designed to be ridden by an overweight cowboy well past his prime. He was nice and cute when I was first introduced to him a few days before the event, but when we threw a real bull rope on him at the Tehachapi Rodeo Grounds, his demeanor changed. Even the July 2 crash course and practice ride included a hard fall to the ground and a reminder that this was truly man versus beast.

Add a day in a stock pen, the presence of larger, more intimidating bulls and his time being loaded into the bucking chute and J.J. was no longer his happy-go-lucky self. I did feel a little better watching the actual beasts being loaded into the chutes for the real bull riders to handle and then seeing little J.J. in mine. Nobody told him, though, that he’s was not one of the big boys; I think he felt like he had something to prove. Darn peer pressure.

I’ll be honest, me and the boys behind this whole ordeal didn’t really know how J.J. would act. We had to coax him into the chutes with grain and had a plan to make him follow the feed bucket if he didn’t react like a rough stock bull should. Well, let’s just say that plan went out the window once it was time to shine. J.J. left that chute like he was on fire and sent a few leg kicks to get his hefty passenger off his back.

I think I made it a whole three seconds when I ran out of talent and took a hard fall to the arena dirt. It certainly wasn’t pretty and although it wasn’t a long way down it shook me. So much for it being a gimmick; that was a real bull (half-sized) taking real exception to his passenger and giving him a real good lick for his trouble.

The entire experience turned out to be a lot more real than anticipated, but, that’s what my life has always been about, experiences. I’ve never lost touch with the fact that a once dirt-poor kid from Tehachapi has sat in the White House, the State Capitol, dined with dignitaries, seen some of the most brilliant stadiums and arenas in the United States and on July 4, 2019, his favorite holiday, rode a bull at the Tehachapi Rodeo Grounds where he’s seen countless others do the same, albeit much better. I’d say my resume of these unforgettable experiences is spilling well over the page, and I am lucky for it.

What I really appreciated was the chance to stand among men who do this for a living. I wish I had the time to talk to each of them and hear the story behind every pair of duct-taped boots, shoelace-reinforced jeans, brace or bandage they wore under their dusty road-weary clothes. To take in that scene was to live in the moment. It made getting on the compact bull all the easier, although it didn’t ease my fall one bit, but I’ll live.

Special thanks to all the folks who made it happen. There was the ring-leader Dal Bunn and some of his fine ranch hands Derek and Ben Bunn, Tanner Noush and Ben Riggs. They put up with my awkwardness for a few quick lessons and pointed me in the right direction on their pet bull J.J. They were first-class all the way and fine assets for the Tehachapi Mountain Rodeo Association. Thanks to the fans for the cheers after my lesson in failure; it was truly an honor to tip my hat in that rodeo arena. I won’t soon forget it.

I suppose I won’t be quitting my day job, and I’ll be nursing a few sore things for the next week or so. But I was happy to support TMRA and more importantly the sport of bull riding. I guess now when the animal rights folks come after me even heavier, I’ll have practiced what I preached.

I was disappointed I didn’t make the eight-second whistle. I even apologized to Derek given all the fuss he and his gang put into me over the last week. His grin, however, told a different story, “no man that was awesome,” he said. “You rode a bull, you’re a bull rider now, nobody can ever take that away from you!”

So, there you have it, branded by the local rodeo authorities, Corey Costelloe, writer, community advocate, bull rider (retired).

Cowboy up.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at corey.costelloe@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.