A version of this article originally appeard on PortlandPulp.com
People who know me will not be shocked to hear that I have no experience with bull riding. I grew up playing sports, have a healthy obsession with Mixed Martial Arts and like watching Blazer games while drinking beer; but I had never even seen a bull rider in action. Every year, the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) tour comes through Portland this weekend, and for the first time, I’ll be there. (Boys, please! Don’t everyone get excited at once!)
One season consists of more than 30 stops for the riders, who take regular blows to their body and still come back for more. I figured I should know some of the basics before heading to the event, so I did a little research: The first goal of a bull rider is to get a “qualified ride” in, which means they stay on the bull for at least 8 seconds. The clock starts when the bull’s flank breaks through the gate and it stops when the rider’s hand touches the bull, comes loose from the rope or if they hit the ground. If they make it to 8 seconds, the rider is scored by judges with a total possible score of 0-100.
The bull also gets a score, even if the rider is bucked off, and the PBR tour has the top 40 riders in the country as well as the top bulls. Riders earn points at each event based on their ride scores, scores in each round and overall finish in the event. One of the most interesting pieces to find was how much the PBR cares about the welfare of their bulls; if you're interested in learning more about that, check out the page on their site dedicatd to the topic.
Colby Yates has been a professional bull rider for 12 years and at only 30 years old, he has an impressive number of injuries. Earlier this month, while the PBR tour was stopped in New York City, Yates separated some ribs during the second round. He’s only two weeks into the six week healing process for an injury like that, but he’s ready to ride.
I got the chance to talk to Colby and ask him some questions about his sport and career. He was exactly what us Oregonians might imagine a Texas bull rider is like: Incredibly polite and deeply passionate about his sport.
MW: First, how are you feeling? I know you’re recovering from an injury in early January and you were unable to ride in Sacramento.
Yates: I’m really sore, but feeling better each day. I’ll be ready in Portland. We just try to be as close as we can. I just have to tough it out and put [the injury] aside. I’ll be 100% on my game if I can.
You’ve been doing this for 12 years. When did you know you wanted this to be your career?
I’m from Texas and a lot of us in Texas grow up like that. It’s like someone growing up a skateboarder; you do it when you’re young and you just want to keep doing it. I started when I was 8 years old and I knew that this is what I wanted to do for as long as I could. Now I’m reaching the end of it.
So you think your career is getting close to being done? Is that just because of the injuries you sustain and trying to keep in shape is harder?
Yeah. Most people stop at about 30-35. It’s like in dog years [laughs]. In dog years, I’m like 50. It could happen any time for me. It just depends on how I’m feeling. I’ll know when I’m done for sure and that’s when I’ll call it quits. There’s no need to do something when your whole heart isn’t in it, and my heart is definitely still in the sport so I’m 100% right now.
In all these years, what kind of injuries have you sustained?
Broken about every bone. My back, my legs, my arms. Had surgery on my shoulders. Broken my neck. Just about everything. I’ve had 38 concussions so that’s probably the thing I worry about the most. But this week I will be riding with a helmet. I usually don’t. But I took that shot last time and I got lucky so I’m going to do that.
You have a child now. Has that changed anything about the way you ride?
I try to put everything aside when I get on. My family and anything other than bull riding is the last thing I think of when I’m riding. I try not to put myself into that situation because any time you’re hesitant about getting hurt, you’ll get hurt.
You use Twitter -- has that been fun for you to connect with fans?
Yeah, I just started doing it. Still getting used to it. My tweets aren’t up to par with some of the other guys. It’s cool to let fans know what’s going on when we’re getting ready, and all the things we’re doing before an event.
It seems like you and the other riders on the tour are close -- does that make it easier? Having them around?
It’s like a family away from our family. We see each other every weekend. We all really pull for each other, and you just don’t find that in any other sport.
What’s it like before a stop on the tour?
Some of the guys work out all week and get ready. Some of them just try to take it easy and not think about what’s coming up and use any extra energy that they could use on the bull. Most of the guys are treating themselves like professional athletes.
Is that what you’re doing right now?
How many times have you been here to Portland?
I was here first in 2006 for the PBR. I believe I’ve been almost every year after that.
Is there anything unique about Portland audiences?
Yeah, they really love the sport and it’s something we love -- so it’s always awesome when people get behind it. It just takes a lot to beat New York’s crowd. So tell your readers to get ready to beat New York. We know the fans are here for sure and we know they can beat them.
We are competitive here!
Well then make sure everyone knows there are still tickets at the Rose Quarter, and we want to see them out there cheering. It’s going to be an awesome show and we’re ready to ride.
Tickets for the PBR tour at the Rose Garden are still available, and it sounds like a good time. Also, if you’re interested in finding out more about Colby, you should know he’s a singer/songwriter with an album that was just released in October. After some time with his family over the holiday, he told me he is “fixin’ to start writing again” so he can release another album. I think it's safe to say that Colby is my new best friend. See you all this weekend!