On a bull, 8 seconds is a very long time

Monday's bullriding is a first for the State Fair

Maryland State Fair

August 25, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

Watching from the bleachers, an eight-second bull ride seems to go in slow motion. It could last a minute in your mind, maybe more.

Perched atop a writhing monster, it's more like two days, said bull rider Ben Arneson. It's hard for him to explain exactly how it feels.

"It's almost indescribable," said Arneson, who will ride Monday in the Maryland State Fair's first rodeo. "To be able to master that much power for eight seconds makes you feel unstoppable when you do it right."

Monday, Arneson will ride bulls raised by his friend Sonny Williams. Williams and his father John own and run the J Bar W Ranch in Johnsville, where they breed cattle and host rodeos.

For Williams, a former bull rider, raising a strong bull might not give the same adrenaline rush as sitting on one, but it's no less rewarding. Watching his bulls buck well and rank nationally, he said, is kind of like watching your boy hit a home run at a baseball game.

"It makes you pretty proud," Williams said. "It makes you feel a whole lot better raising one than going out and buying one."

Training starts when a bull is 2 years old. Williams straps a girth with a 30-pound metal box around the animal to teach it to buck. The box is remote-controlled and falls off with the push of a button - usually after about six seconds, Williams said.

By 3, the bulls are ready to start bucking people. At that age, they're still pretty cocky, Williams said.

"They think they're 10-foot tall and bulletproof," he said. "They don't have many manners yet."

The more bulls are handled, ridden and carted around the country, the less feisty they get, Williams said. But a feisty bull isn't necessarily a good bull. Williams doesn't breed bulls to be mean - he breeds them to be athletic.

"It's a big difference," Williams said. "Meanness ain't gonna throw a cowboy off. One that bucks hard is going to throw a cowboy off."

Before a bull enters the ring, a rope is tied around his flank. Since he doesn't have hands to remove the rope, he tries to shake it off, which makes him kick up in the air.

One of Williams' best bulls is named Shock & Awe, a beast that weighs about 1,700 pounds (about average) and ranks in the top 40 bulls in the world. Shock & Awe, who is 5 this year, was voted 2004's Bucking Bull of the Year by the International Bull Riders Association. Shock & Awe will be in his prime for two more years, but Williams said he'll probably sell him this year for about $20,000.

The first time Arneson mounted Shock & Awe it didn't last long, and ended when Shock & Awe hit Arneson's head with a horn and ran him over. He said he was a little sore, but not bad enough to keep him from trying again later. The second time lasted longer - about five seconds.

Still, Arneson's not afraid of Shock & Awe, or any bull.

"You don't ever want to fear them," he said. "You respect them, respect what they can do to you. To fear them, you're more likely to get hurt than you are to not fear them."

At Monday's rodeo, about 30 bull riders will compete in a first round, and the 10 best will come back for a finale round. There will also be barrel racing at the fair this year.

Organizers say the rodeo is sure to be a hit with fairgoers. "It's become such a popular sporting event that we thought it would be of interest to our fairgoers," said Edie Bernier, the fair's spokeswoman. "Also, we like to bring something new in every year."

Though the crowd is encouraged to cheer, Arneson said everything fades away for the few seconds he's riding.

"Once I get on the back of a bull and it's my turn, I don't hear anything, and everything gets blocked out besides me and the bull," he said. "For the next eight seconds, that's all I hear, and all that matters."

The J Bar W Ranch's Battle of the Beast Pro Bullriding and Barrel Racing starts at 7 p.m. Monday in the Maryland State Fair's Horse Show Ring. The fair is at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. The rodeo is free with the fair's $6 admission. Call 410-252-0200 or visit www. marylandstatefair.com.

The basics

What: The 124th Maryland State Fair

When: Tomorrow through Sept. 5

Hours: Midway is open 10 a.m.-11 p.m. on weekends and noon-11 p.m. weekdays. Livestock and horse shows are open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Demonstration and exhibit halls open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Where: Maryland State Fairgrounds, York and Timonium roads, Timonium

Admission: $6; free for ages under 12. (Rides extra.)

Parking: Limited parking on the fairgrounds for a small fee. Free parking at the Park and Ride on Deereco Road west of the fairgrounds.

Public transportation: Take the light rail to the stop at the Cow Palace gate or take the No. 8 bus. (Call 410-539-5000 for more information.)

Information: Call 410-252-0200, Ext. 227, or visit www.marylandstatefair.com

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