Steamboat Springs There was a sense of excitement in the voice of Broken Arrow Rodeo Company owner Dona Vold Larsen as she talked on the phone from Casper, Wyo., earlier this week.
Vold-Larsen had just learned that a bull named Skoal's Panda had officially been invited to buck at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.
"Oh, we are just so excited," she said. "My dad has sent a lot of bulls to the National Finals, but this is the first one for me."
Panda became a legend among local riders during the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series this summer. Panda, who bucked in all 24 performances, was not ridden. In fact, in 72 outs since January, Panda has been ridden only twice.
"I think it's great that Panda was selected," Steamboat Professional Rodeo Board member and announcer John Shipley said. "It will give our series some exposure and I think it reflects the quality of rodeo we have here in Steamboat."
Riding Panda became a goal for many of the riders who came to Steamboat during the 10-week series this summer. Watching the big, black bull toss riders to the ground also became a draw at the gate.
"There was a bounty at the radio station for the rider who could stay on Panda," Vold-Larsen said.
Needless to say, none of the cowboys in this summer's series collected the cash for riding Panda. The only cowboy to do it was Cody Custer in a postseason PBR event. Custer scored 94 points for his ride and won the event.
"That's the highest any of our bulls have ever scored," Vold-Larsen said.
Panda is the second bull from the local series to advance to the National Finals. The only other bull to buck in Steamboat and Las Vegas was Mr. T. That bull, however, was raised somewhere else. Mr. T. made a name by tossing cowboys to the dirt floor of the Romick Rodeo Arena in the mid-1980s and was owned by the Burns Rodeo Company. The bull was unridden in 300 qualified rides before Marty Stanert rode Mr. T at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1989.
Unlike Mr. T, however, Panda was born and raised on a local ranch. Vold-Larsen bought the bull from local rancher Guy Urie in June 1999.
"It's great because this bull was raised in the Yampa Valley," Vold-Larsen said. "It's a real hometown favorite."
Panda was ridden last January in Odessa, Texas, at the Odessa Sandhills Live Stock Show and Rodeo. The only other ride was in Steamboat over Labor Day weekend at a special event featuring some of the top bullriders from around the nation.
Panda has also hit the road for a couple of big rodeos, including the Parade del Sol in Arizona. Vold-Larsen said officials have had their eyes on Panda for some time, but Custer's ride on Panda in September didn't hurt.
"It was the frosting on the cake," Vold-Larsen said. "Cody did a great job riding him, but Panda almost got him. He actually bucked him off, but it was after the buzzer."
Vold said Panda, who usually heads straight back to the pin, paraded around the arena after the ride.
"I think he was a little mad that someone rode him," Vold-Larsen said. "We are just hoping for the best in Las Vegas."
Larsen said Panda will head to Las Vegas in late November. The National Finals will take place at the Thomas and Mack Arena Dec. 1 through 10.
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org