Weekend cowboys take a short ride to pay dirt Bull: At a Glenwood farm, novices willing to part with $200 can learn how to ride the bucking animals -- and pick up some barroom bragging rights at the same time.

November 07, 1996|By Tonya Jameson | Tonya Jameson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Lucifer -- a beige, 1,500-pound bull -- kicks and bucks, tossing the intruder to the ground less than two seconds after he enters the small arena at a western Howard County farm.

Tom Cassio was supposed to stay on the bull for eight seconds. Instead, he finds himself hurrying out of the arena as others steer the beast away from him. The quick exit doesn't bother Cassio, a first-time bull rider at Rockin R Rodeo in Glenwood.

"It's an incredible feeling pulling you," Cassio says. "The power -- you can just feel it from your hands."

The 25-year-old from Kingsville in Baltimore County excitedly describes his experience to eight other men attending a weekend school run by professional bull-riders Randy and Chip Ridgely at their family farm on Route 97.

The bull-riding students, most of whom are in their 20s, pay $200 each -- and endure blustery November weather -- to spend two days learning the basics of getting on the ferocious animals, tying ropes to them and riding them safely.

The only professionals at the farm Saturday and Sunday are the Ridgely brothers and six friends who help with the school. The rest are weekend cowboys -- carpet layers, plumbers and an Air Force crew member -- looking for a new challenge and perhaps some barroom bragging rights.

Cassio and two other men say they were enticed by their boss, Bob Riley of Aberdeen, who had bragged about riding bulls at the farm.

"I thought it was going to be a little scarier," says Cassio, a carpet layer. "You didn't have a lot of time to think about what they told you. The ground's a lot harder than I thought it was."

Another bull-riding student, 43-year-old George Santos of Abingdon in Harford County, said a friend had been telling him about the school for a few years.

"I wanted to see what all this hype was about," Santos says. "One day I woke up and decided I wanted to try it."

On one of his rides, he hangs on about four seconds before being tossed to the ground. But Santos says he'll tell his friend that he is the better rider of the two.

"You want to get off," he says, "but you know everybody's looking."

Everyone is looking, but all cheer one another on. Men who barely knew one another at the beginning of the training become fast friends as they face their fears.

The school is a safe place for them to learn, the instructors say, because its bulls are especially for inexperienced riders. Many of the men ride several times, each time critiquing their form via videotape.

The Ridgelys, Glenelg High School graduates, are making a name for themselves and western Howard County as far as bull riding is concerned.

Their Bull Blast '96 -- the second rodeo they've held -- attracted about 2,000 spectators and 20 professional riders at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship on Mother's Day.

They plan another in May. And they have been holding a few bull-riding schools each year for the past three years.

"This is where you want to learn," Randy Ridgely, 29, tells his students. "This is where you want to start your habits."

The instructors tell their students to use their feet to grip the bulls, keep their chins tucked to their chests and lean forward atop the animals.

The men also learn about the $1,500 to $2,000 worth of equipment needed by real bull riders: vests similar to bulletproof vests, leather chaps worn over jeans to protect the legs, spurs for traction and ropes.

"Bull riding is not flashy," says Chip Ridgely, 31. "If you want to go with flashy clothes and be seen, go to the bar and learn to line dance."

No instruction can predict a bull's moves. The instructors say the 1,200- to 2,200-pound animals have their own personalities -- befitting such names as Lucifer and Red Rampage.

"They're going to try to step on you and run you over," cautions Tim Johnson, 34, of Bowie, who has ridden professionally for 16 years.

"When the bull gets in the arena, they get an attitude. These old bulls, I think they enjoy it. They get into it," Johnson says.

Randy Ridgely emphasizes exercise -- because it helps the inevitable injuries heal faster. Most injuries occur from the bull stomping the rider, not from spearing him with his horns. Riders often pull groin muscles while riding because they constantly squeeze their thighs together to stay on the bull.

The instructors consider themselves the walking wounded. One has 30 stitches from being hit in the face with a horn three weeks ago. Others talk about broken ribs and dislocated hips.

The all-male crew discourages women from trying the sport. "It's not a natural act for a human, and why should a pretty lady get whacked?" Randy Ridgely asks.

The rides vary. Some are barely a skirmish. Others seem as if they will never end.

One bull bucks and moonwalks before throwing the student to the ground. Another jumps around the arena smashing his rider into fences, but the rider holds on for eight seconds and dismounts gracefully.

And then it's time for Todd Tanner, 24, a carpet layer from Perry Hall.

Red Rampage won't even let Tanner sit on his back without slamming him against the metal rails in the chute.

Tanner tries everything, touching Rampage's back to let him know he is going to climb on, rubbing his back with his boots and then his knees before sitting on him. Nothing seems to calm the beast.

After a few minutes, Rampage settles down enough for the gate to open. Tanner grips the rope, thrusts his body forward and holds on.

It is over before it starts. Red Rampage drops Tanner barely two feet out of the chute and the rider hustles out of the arena, shaken but not broken.

"I've got some barroom gossip now," Tanner says, dusting off his hat with a smile.

"I'm going to say I rode for a half-hour."

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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