Looking for 8
By: Craig Wall
Rodeo and the rodeo life is written into the DNA of country music. Whether it’s George not making the short go again, Garth not recalling tougher broncs or Chris not knowing why it’s appealing only that he’s got to ride, hearing the vocabulary, lifestyle, thrill and heartbreak of life on the circuit is as natural to country fans as the air we breathe. Some artists like Chris Ledoux were rodeo people themselves adding to the authenticity of the music. Just last weekend, my family and I attended the Mid-Winter Fair Rodeo, an event that has endured for 65 years. Something like that doesn’t continue for so long without connecting to something deep within us. At its heart is one of the most basic conflicts—man versus beast. Week in and week out, in arenas large and small, these men and women put everything they have out there to allow us to feel the thrill of that contest without having to risk anything ourselves. And it is a risk. And in the rodeo world, nothing is more thrilling or riskier than bull riding.
In the world of rock music, they call it the 27 Club. An uncanny number of rock stars (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain to name just a few) have died at the age of 27. In rodeo, we may be seeing the start of the 25 club. Thirty years ago this July (thirty years already!?!) Lane Frost was killed in the dirt of Cheyenne, gored by a bull named Taking Care of Business. Two years ago, pro bull rider Ty Pozzobon took his own life at the age of 25. Brain scans showed evidence of CTE; damage caused by years of head trauma.
Last week in Denver the PBR was shaken again by the death of 25-year-old Mason Lowe. Lowe, who was ranked in the Top 20 at the time of his death, was stomped by a bull after being thrown. In the years following Frost’s death, his friend Cody Lambert invented a safety vest to prevent gorings and absorb some of the blows riders receive. Just a few years ago a rule was passed to require young riders to wear a helmet instead of just a cowboy hat. In many ways, the sport is safer than it’s ever been.
But it will never and can never be made completely safe. No safety vest could have protected Lowe from the full weight the bull brought down upon him. Yesterday in Glendale, Claudio Montanha, the leader after Round 2, was unable to compete in the Championship round after sustaining a concussion after being thrown to the dirt. The danger of the event is part of its allure. It’s part of why they ride, it’s part of why we watch. They accept the danger. We must never get complacent and forget the danger they put themselves in for our entertainment.
After Lowe’s passing, a fellow rider summed up the emotions of the day saying Lowe died doing exactly what he wanted to do and living the life he wanted to live. In that respect, hopefully, someday we will all be so fortunate.