Cowboys crowded the Alabama - Florida line this weekend for an eight second ride. An eight second ride doesn’t seem long unless you are on the back of a ton of bucking muscle.
The seventh annual Flora-Bama Bulls on the Beach was a three-day event this year. Cowboys from Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama filled the parking lot next to the Flora-Bama. Bulls and ponies were housed in pins near the road and the arena and bleachers stretched into the sand. Chaps, spurs, cowboy boots and buckles graced every man, woman and child.
Bull riders voluntarily climb onto the back of a 2,000-pound bull, risking serious injury, in hopes of riding for eight seconds. Riders can only use one hand to stay aboard and if he touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he received no score. They are judged on their ability to stay aboard the bucking ton of muscle.
The cowboy’s lifeline is a flat braided rope that is wrapped around the bull’s chest just behind the front legs. One end is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the bull. The rider then wraps the tail around his hand to secure his grip.
With a nod of his head, the gate swings open and he and the bull burst into the arena. Every ride is different; some bulls run out of the chute before bucking and spinning, others buck as soon as the pressure of gate eases.
Cliff Allred from Summerville, Tennessee, has been riding bulls for 16 years and made his third appearance at Bull on the Beach this year. “All of my family’s cowboys and I grew up roping and riding. I started out on calves and worked my way up to big bulls,” Allred said.
But not all bull riders grew up in a rodeo family. Ross Burney from Coffeeville, Mississippi, took a unique path to bull riding.
“When I was in college and 20 years old, my roommate started bull riding. He talked me into trying it. As soon as I tried it, I loved it. I grew up riding horses and my sister was a barrel racer, but I didn’t grow up around bull riding.” Burney want on to explain how he informed his family of his new hobby, “The rodeo came to my hometown and I told my family I was riding a bull. They didn’t believe me. When they announced my name at the rodeo my family just freaked out.”
Burney has been bull riding for 15 years and has seen the country. “I go to around 60 or 70 rodeos a year. I spend a lot of time in Canada in the summer and I’ve been to Brazil, Costa Rico, and every state but Alaska rodeoing. It’s been fun,” Burney said.
Rockin’ Robbie Hodges plays a very important roll inside the rodeo ring. As the rodeo clown his focus is safety.
“Buddy Bush and Mike Driver are two of the best bull fighters in the country. It doesn’t matter if you are at 90 points or zero you are still getting bucked off that bull. When you get bucked off it’s the bull fighters’ job to save the cowboy and my job to save them. You’ll see me out there talking a lot to the bull fighters because I can see everything from my vantage point,” Hodges said.
One of his tools is a barrel, which weighs about 140 pounds and is made from aluminum. It is padded on both sides for the bull’s protection as well as Hodges.’
Hodges travels to around 45 rodeos a year but the Flora-Bama Bulls on the Beach is favorite. “This is my all-time favorite rodeo. It’s so much fun. Everyone’s right on top of you and these folks want to have a good time.”
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and try to take care of myself because someone’s life depends on it. I love my job. It’s the greatest job on the earth and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Hodges said.
Bulls on the Beach is produced by Cody Harris of Robertsdale. If that name sounds familiar maybe you have seen Harris and his friends Booger Brown and Bubba Thompson on the ‘The Cowboy Way Alabama’ on the INSP Network.
‘The Cowboy Way Alabama’ follows Harris, Brown and Thompson and their families as they preserve the cowboy way of life.
Harris, Brown and Thompson all played key roles at the Bulls on the Beach event. Harris and Thompson were keeping things on track in the bull chutes while Brown was in the ring on horseback to help round up the bulls and bucking ponies.
Every night, after the stands emptied and the sand settled the bulls returned to the arena to relax and stretch out after a long day of bucking cowboys until it’s time to load up and head back to the farm until next time.