A bull riding tragedy during a Pro Bull Riders (PBR) event at the National Western Stock show has garnered a wave of sympathy among all involved in PBR and rodeo. “We’re all one family and when something like this happens, you know we all just take a step back,” said former bull rider, Fred Boettcher who lives in Southern Colorado.
Mason Lowe, a top ranked rider, was killed when he fell underneath a bucking bull and it stepped on his chest. He was wearing a protective vest, but direct contact from a nearly two thousand pound animal caused internal injuries. The 25 year old from Missouri leaves behind a wife and family.
“In this sport we take every precaution we can for the safety of the contestant and the animal both, but just like in any sport there’s those unpredictables,” said veteran Bull Fighter, Benny “Benny Bob” Patrick.
For decades Patrick has worked in arenas entertaining crowds dressed like a clown, and more importantly distracting bulls, so cowboys can get to safety. He also teaches at rodeo schools and workshops. He says bull riders are practiced athletes. “There’s fundamentals in the sport, it’s no different than basketball or football or anything else. In rodeo there’s fundamentals when you’re riding bulls when you’re fighting bulls.” Like other sports the intrigue and excitement comes from variables. In this sport the largest variable is the animal that doesn’t understand buzzers signaling the competition is done.
There is also a constant effort to improve safety through analysis, education and protective gear. “That’s why we have schools today, we have safety equipment, you know learn from the guys that are the best,” said Boettcher.
Even with safety measures, competitors are well aware this is a high risk sport. There are other sports like car racing, sky diving, even ski racing where the athletes know there is risk of major injury, even death, but remain passionate about competing.
Accepting the risk, however, is not a death wish. “You hate to see it happen,” said Patrick. Lowe’s death brings widespread sadness. “Your heart just hurts today,” said Boettcher, “but the thing about rodeo is we will go on.”