WAPAKONETA — The bull riders performing at the Auglaize County Fair Friday have different physical preparations they make before easing onto the two-ton animals, including stretching, tightening ropes and knotting their hand down. But what exactly is going through their minds in those last few moments before that gate swings open and the massive animals start bucking?
“Lock down and hang out,” Neal Borntrager, a bull rider from Indiana, said is what goes through his mind. “You have no control over ‘em, so you have to follow along.”
Borntrager has been bull riding for four years. He got into it because he liked the culture and the adrenaline rush looked like fun, he said.
Bailey Poling, of Convoy, said he lives right down the road from Hat Creek Arena in Van Wert and used to watch the bull riders there. Around three years ago he decided to give it a try, he said.
“I just clear my mind and I’m thinking about staying on,” he said. He tries not to think about what could go wrong and just focuses on the ride at hand. “I just keep trying to get better. I’m still trying to figure it out, I guess.”
Many of the riders participating in the Auglaize County Fair event go to the Hat Creek Arena so he’s become friends with them. After they’ve finished rides they give each other pointers on how to improve the next ride, Poling said.
“I scoot up on my rope, clear my head, knot it and go,” said Jesse James, of Celina.
Bull fighters have to take the animals head on.
“My job is basically distracting the bull and making sure the riders don’t get hit,” said fighter Brian Johnson. “If you hesitate, you’re going to get a rider hurt. If you’re afraid to take a hit, this isn’t the job for you.”
Johnson said bull fighters are studying the bull for those few moments before the gate opens. They’re looking to see which bull it is, but this time in the season they’ve gotten to know the individual personalities, he said. They know how aggressive they’ll have to be in distracting the bulls from the riders depending on how aggressive the animals are.
“I usually take a deep breath, let everything go and just have fun,” said rider Cody West, of Markleville, Indiana. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362