Articles & Pictures by St. Joseph
Good rides pace Harris
Maxwell rides the bull Steve McQueen in round one of the
National Federation of Professional Bullriders finals on
Thursday night at Civic Arena. (JESSICA STEWART/St. Joseph
By CLINTON THOMAS
Most bullriders say the season standings do not matter
once the federation finals begin.
That may be true, but try convincing Jeremy Harris of that fact.
Harris entered the National Federation of Professional Bullriders
Federation Finals in first place in the season standings, and that is
exactly where he sits after the first two rounds on Thursday in Civic
Harris (Ravenden, Ark.) scored an 82 on Pistol Pete in the first round —
one of five riders who notched that same score on their first bull — but
saved his best riding for round two. Harris’ 87-point ride on Hot Spot
was the night’s highest score and made him one of four riders to ride
their first two bulls.
Both of Harris’ bulls hailed from his home state of Arkansas, and he
said the quality of the bulls gave him what he needed to set the early
First place after two rides is nice, but Harris wants more.
“I’m going to nod my head on six of them, and I plan on riding six of
them,” Harris said. “I don’t know what the odds are, but I you
guarantee I’ll be trying until my head is on the ground every time.”
Curt Check of Eastman, Wis., won two rounds in last year’s finals, but
was not as lucky Thursday.
Tyler Adrian (Kirbyville,
Mo.) leads the rookie of the year race, despite missing the past three
months with a shoulder injury. The injury forced Adrian to ride with his
right arm down, a switch from his usual left arm down style.
“It’s a big change, but really it feels comfortable,” Adrian said.
“Obviously we’re coming here and getting on the best bulls that
we’ve gotten on all season, and it’s obviously a challenge either way.
Anything that adds more of a challenge to it is going to have an
Check was injured when his first bull bucked him off and landed on his
side with both hind legs. Check ran over to the fence before collapsing in
pain and left the arena on a stretcher. A protective vest prevented
serious injury, however, and the announcer told the crowd at the end of
the night that Check planned to return for the rest of the finals.
Jeep Steenhook (Norwalk, Iowa) won the first round with an 85 on Double
The Federation Finals resume at 8 tonight with rounds three and four. The
finals conclude on Saturday.
Bucking in the mainstream
Bullriding is hotter than ever
By CRYSTAL K. WIEBE
For two more nights, an adrenaline-fueled battle
between man and beast continues inside Civic Arena.
The second round of finals for the National Federation of Professional
Bullriders starts at 8 p.m. tonight. The show wraps up on Saturday.
Once a fringy activity for cowpokes only, the extreme sport of bullriding
has bucked its way into mainstream entertainment over the last decade and
now picks up new fans at a pace rivaling NASCAR.
“It’s the hottest it’s ever been,” says Clint Jackson of
In 1995, when he founded the NFPB, only a handful of other associations
devoted purely to bullriding events existed. Even Professional Bull Riders
which remains one of the most respected
bullriding organizations, had only been around for three years.
“Now,” Jackson says, “I can pick up a magazine and there’s
probably 70, 80 associations across the country.”
The NFPB finals came to St. Joseph for the first time in 1999. The event
was a sellout, one of the first four capacity crowds the arena ever held.
“People were scalping tickets on the street,” recalls finals director
Rex Strayer of St. Joseph.
Bullriding attendance has remained steady since then. The sport’s growth
is more evident, Jackson says, in metropolitan areas like Chicago, where
daily life is even more removed from cowboy culture.
“It’s Chicago,” he says. “It’s the Windy City. It’s very
urban, yet you’re seeing more and more extreme fans and growth and
support in that area.”
National TV coverage helps by exposing city slickers to a thrill they may
have never witnessed live.
PBR events started airing in the late 1990s and are now sports network
The sport also inspired a TLC reality TV show, “Beyond the Bull,”
which provides a longer than eight second glimpse into the lives of
“It’s just kind of like NASCAR was back in its earlier days when
people were just starting to learn about the drivers, the cars and the
teams,” Keith Dressel says. “It became a word of mouth thing that this
was such an exciting thing to watch.”
Dressel, president and chief executive officer of Adrenaline Nation TV, is
producing another reality series about bullriders that debuts on Fox
Sports Net in May.
“Live to Ride” focuses more on the bulls than the riders, following
fierce buckers like Jager Bomb to events all over the country.
“We follow the stock because the better the stock, the better the riders
that come to ride,” Dressel says.
Another parallel between NASCAR and bullriding is in the marketing.
Both sports carry the potential for deadly danger but are promoted as
thrills that anyone can get into.
Unlike other professional athletes, bullriders aren’t known for fighting
each other or arguing with the judges, Strayer says.
“The whole family can come to bullriding and be completely enthralled,
entertained and focused for a few hours,” Dressel says. “And when they
leave, they’re still talking about what happened.”
Among the sights he’ll be talking about for years: A bull so strong that
it got its horns underneath a lower rail of fencing and lifted half of a
ring about 18 inches off the ground.
“Trust me,” Dressel says, “your heart beats very, very quickly when
you see that.”
Seamans rides into
By CLINTON THOMAS
Immediately after his
ride, Curtis Seamans went to the conference room in Civic Arena and
described his recent adventure to anyone who would listen.
Seamans had reason to be excited.
His 88-point ride on ZZ Top was good enough for the round four win and
vaulted him into first place by one point in the National Federation of
Professional Bullriders Federation Finals on Friday.
ZZ Top jumped twice out of the gate, then flattened out into several spins
that grew quicker as the 8-second buzzer neared.
Seamans (Imboden, Ark.) threw his hat in the air and yelled after the
ride, knowing that he had just grabbed a high score.
“He just kept getting better and better,” Seamans said. “He started
spinning and I kept telling myself ‘He’s got me throwed, he’s got me
throwed,’ but I hung on.”
Seamans’ score was the highest of the weekend, and puts him in first
with 253 points. Fellow Arkansas native Jeremy Harris (Ravenden, Ark.)
sits in second place with 252 points.
Seth Reynolds gave Missouri fans something to cheer for with his 85-point
ride in round three. Reynolds rode the bull Cowtown to the top score in
Reynolds, a Lockwood, Mo. native, also had an 85-point ride on Thursday.
The two rides were not as similar as the scores suggest.
“(Thursday) night was tougher,” Reynolds said. “Tonight he threw me
out of balance early, and the way I rode made him look a little more
buckinger than he really was.”
After Friday, no cowboy has a shot to replicate Virgil Alsup’s six-ride
feat from last year.
Four riders entered the night 2 for 2 in their rides, but Harris was the
only one to go 3 for 3. Harris lost his bid for perfection in round four
when Mr. Obvious threw him to the dirt.
The finals conclude at 8 tonight.
Bull market for St. Joseph rider
Barsch rides on Friday night at the NFPB finals. Most riders
start at a young age, but Barsch — an Iraqi War veteran —
started riding bulls after high school. (JESSICA STEWART/St.
As an Iraq war veteran, Barsch knows about tough
By CLINTON THOMAS
Ben Barsch just needed a little time alone to blow off
some steam after his fourth unsuccessful bull ride.
Following his jaunt on Rodeo Cat on Friday, Barsch retreated under the
Civic Arena bleachers and pounded the wall in frustration before he
emerged several minutes later.
Nine other cowboys shared Barsch’s pain of a scoreless first four rounds
at the National Federation of Professional Bullriders Finals, but none of
the others had to deal with Barsch’s pressure.
After all, he is the hometown cowboy.
Barsch, 26, graduated from Savannah High School in 1998 and lives in St.
Joseph where he works as a union carpenter.
“I’ve really been looking forward to it of course,” Barsch said
about the chance to ride in front of the home crowd. “I just want to
show everybody what I can do, but I’ve yet to do that.”
Despite losing his first four battles with the bulls, Barsch has done
plenty to earn the crowd’s support — much of it before the event even
In March 2003, while Barsch’s competitors were riding bulls, he rode in
a military convoy in the initial invasion of Iraq.
Barsch dodged most of the major combat during his nine-month tour overseas
with the Marines, but that did little to comfort his mother.
“When he’s riding bulls, it’s only eight seconds — a really short
worry — and when he was in Iraq, it was an every day all-the-time
worry,” Patti Barsch said. “I don’t lose any sleep over him riding
Less than a month after his return from Iraq, Barsch returned to
“I probably should have taken a little more time and practiced a little
more, but I just got right back into it at first,” Barsch said.
Barsch battled various injuries for the past two years — including a
pulled groin that still hasn’t healed since August and an injured bicep
he tapes before every competition. He qualified 25th out of more than 200
bullriders for a spot in the finals despite not starting the sports until
after high school.
“I definitely got a late start on it,” Barsch said. “A lot of these
guys have been riding since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, climbing
on steers and whatever since they were 10. Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing
Barsch said that the joy of beating a bull head-to-head is his favorite
part of bullriding, and he hopes to ride that feeling as long as he can.
“Some guys, physically, their bodies can handle it, and other guys,
their bodies break down a little sooner,” Barsch said. “I’ll take it
about as far as my body will let me.”
though his days in the Marine Corps have passed, Barsch could make the
military his career. He recently joined the Air National Guard’s 139th
Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Among bullriding, carpentry
and the military, Barsch has a few scheduling problems.
“I don’t want to say it’s a disadvantage, but with a full-time job,
guys don’t want to let you off work, and juggling a military career with
that,” Barsch said. “It takes a toll on you, there’s not enough time
in the day anymore.”
Any direction Barsch chooses will please his father.
“I’m just proud of him no matter what he does,” Cletus Barsch said.
By CLINTON THOMAS
Victory laps are uncommon
in bullriding, but Jeremy Harris got to take one Saturday night.
Harris clinched the National Federation of Professional Bullriders
Federation Finals title before he even sat on his final bull, but he still
had reason to ride one more time at Civic Arena.
“I said before that I wanted to ride all six bulls,” Harris said. “I
knew I couldn’t do that, but I wasn’t going to give up on any of
Harris’ last trip paid off, as his 88-point ride on Buzzard Bait grabbed
him a share of the round six lead — meaning one more bonus paycheck.
Harris (Ravenden, Ark.) won both rounds on Saturday, and his 89-point
conquest of Black Magic in round five was the highest score of the
The finals win extended Harris’ season-earnings record and put an
exclamation point on his Federation Cup win. The cup goes to the cowboy
with the highest earnings total for the season.
Terry Dabney (Marshfield, Mo.) shared the round-six win with an 88 on
Cinch Loose. It was Dabney’s first successful ride of the weekend.
“I was glad,” Dabney said. “I haven’t won a round up here before.
I’ve been up here three years and that was the first one I’ve won.”