The Business of Bull Riding Competitions
Reported by Kasey Wehrum
A look at the companies that supply the bucking bulls, safety equipment, and prize buckles
PBR, the Professional Bull Riders association, requires riders to wear safety vests. Ride Right, a company in Farmersville, Texas, makes vests from high-density foam and ballistic material similar to that of bulletproof vests. The vests, which weigh about 2 pounds, are designed to absorb and disperse the impact of a bull's horn or hoof. Rex Thain started the six-employee company in 1994. It also provides riders with chaps, ropes, gloves, and spurs.
"We don't teach them how to be ornery; that's just in their nature," says Jerry Nelson, founder of Frontier Rodeo, a livestock contractor that leases bucking bulls for PBR rodeos. Originally in the oil field business, Nelson founded Frontier Rodeo in 1991 as a way to pursue his passion for the sport. Today, the $4 million business has 16 employees and breeds bulls on seven ranches across Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. One bull, California Dreaming, has bucked off 65 percent of his riders in less than 3.5 seconds. Now that's ornery.
Whirlwind rodeo rides start out in the relative calm of a small pen called a bucking chute. This chute, made by Priefert Ranch Equipment in Mount Pleasant, Texas, allows riders to safely mount a bull before the gate opens and the timer starts. The chute has large lower panels that help prevent leg injuries to bulls and a gate with grease-free hinges to keep riders' gloves from becoming slippery. The company, which was founded in 1964 by Marvin Priefert and is now run by his grandson, Eddie Priefert, makes a full line of ranch equipment. It has 550 employees.
World Champion Buckle
Hockey has the Stanley Cup. College football has the Heisman Trophy. For the nation's top bull riders, the ultimate prize is the World Champion Buckle. The 18-karat-gold buckle, made by Las Vegas jewelry company Jeffrey Scott Fine Magnetics, is awarded to the rider with the most points at the end of each season, which runs from January to October. Emblazoned with the title "World Champion" and studded with diamonds and rubies, it is valued at more than $25,000. Jeffrey Scott founded the 25-employee business in 1998. It also makes buckles for PBR's Canadian and Australian divisions.
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.