Misty-eyed rodeo bulls chillin’ in Steamboat Springs
June 30, 2017
Some of the baddest four-legged athletes in the Rocky Mountains are being pampered in corrals in Steamboat Springs this week, where evaporative cooling "misters" spritz them with water while they prepare for five straight days of rodeo action.
I'm talking about bucking bulls that typically weigh in at 1,600 pounds. And these PBR (pro bull riding) athletes have more moves than an NBA basketball player.
Unlike the bucking horses, who are trucked to green pastures to graze between the regular Friday/Saturday performances in the summer-long Steamboat Pro Rodeo Series, the bulls have historically hung out in steel pens behind the grandstand at Howelsen Hill. It never struck me as the way to treat the rock stars of the rodeo. What I didn't know is that, all along, the bulls have been turned out daily to stretch their legs and dine on their favorite grains.
It was two years ago, in the midst of major renovations to the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, that a "misting system" was installed on the pens, significantly upgrading the bulls' crib.
Some of you may not know what I'm referring to when I describe an evaporative cooling system that depends on a fine mist of water. Others, who have dined at an outdoor restaurant in Arizona, know exactly what I'm talking about. In Steamboat, outdoor cafes have propane heaters on poles to keep their guests comfortable during the cool spring evenings. In Arizona, it's the opposite — they install misters to cool the air on their patios.
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Brent Romick, Mr. Rodeo Steamboat, says it's just plain smart to treat the rodeo bulls well.
"It's important to keep those animals as comfortable as possible when they're out in the sunshine," he said. "If you don't take care of your animals, they don't take care of you.
When I visited the bullpen this week, the sun was bearing down, but a couple of the bulls appeared to be as happy as puppies, using their thick skulls and menacing horns to play with their vinyl water buckets.
"I have to put a plug in for Steamboat," bull keeper Bill Bentley told me. "Sometimes, the bulls lie down," in the mist. "I think it's probably soothing and calming for them."
Bentley, an old bucking horse rider who used to follow the radio trail from Southeast Texas all the way up to Cheyenne, Wyoming, has a personal interest in keeping the the bulls in good humor. He's employed by rodeo stock contractor Glen Southwick, of Rocky Mountain Rodeo, and the happier the bulls are, the safer Bentley is.
As he opens and closes steel gates to turn the bulls out of their pens for their daily romp in the arena, Bentley never turns his back on the 23 beasts in his care.
There's a reason rodeo bulls are given names like Bodacious, Unforgiven, Slingblade and Voodoo Child.
My personal favorite name for a rodeo bull is "Hotel California": "You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave."