Panda Challenge is no bull | SteamboatToday.com

Panda Challenge is no bull

— It was hard to tell from the roar of the crowd Thursday night if the fans were rooting for or against one of Steamboat Springs’ most successful athletes.

The cheers and jeers didn’t matter to the National Finals star, however, as he dropped another opponent to the dusty floor of the Romick Rodeo Arena in one effortless twirl after which the 2,000-pound bull turned, looked at the crowd with his head held high and pranced back to the return chute on his own terms; another night of work finished.

Panda is quickly becoming a legend in the Yampa Valley by proving why most people prefer to spend their recreational time playing slow-pitch softball rather than taking up the sport of bull riding as they get older.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we had an adult recreational bull riding league in the summer or at least a mechanical bull at a local bar?

I’m sure there would be a few less big talkers around town.

Most of the people who come out to the rodeo on Friday and Saturday night are urban cowboys just hoping to get a little taste of the Western lifestyle before they return to the city feeling a little more like John Wayne.

In my case a taste means a trip to the concession stand for some ribs.

The majority of the people lack the knowledge to truly appreciate what they are seeing during the bull riding competition both from the cowboys and the animals.

But at least they can enjoy it.

You see, Panda makes bull riding easy for those of use who are not regular subscribers to the Professional Bull Riders Association’s weekly magazine to understand.

His rules are simple, even if you are not the guy who rushes home to watch bull riding on TNT or ESPN a couple of times each week.

Basically, if the cowboy holds onto Panda for eight seconds he wins.

In the past two years I’ve seen one cowboy, Cody Custer, ride the bull to the bell.

He was lucky it sounded when it did.

One more second and Custer would have been added to the long list of cowboys who tried to ride the legend and fell just short.

But Custer made it the full eight seconds and he was rewarded with a 90-plus score, and a big check for winning the PBR Labor Day event here in Steamboat Springs.

He was an exception.

You see most of the cowboys who have taken the Panda Challenge never get close to that eight second buzzer for some the ride ends once the chute doors fly open. Many people head to the rodeo arena each week just to watch Panda and to see if the bull will be ridden this summer.

But in the world of rodeo it’s bulls like Panda that separated the guy in the stands from the cowboy on the back of the bull.

A real cowboy feels lucky when he finds out that he has drawn Panda to ride here the bull makes the rest of us feel lucky we are in the stands sipping on a beer when the chute flies open.