Bucking bull business has changed mightily since owner Gene Owen began buying in 1985. Today, the best bulls are based more on good breeding and quality care than a bad attitude and Owen’s ability to roll with the changing tides of trend has landed him with top bovine competitors at the 2020 Professional Bull Riders World Finals.
“It takes such a good bull to make it in the PBR, that you can go through hundreds of bulls before you find a top competitor like Bruiser or Cochise or Smooth Operator,” Owen said. “It’s a once in a lifetime deal to get one of those bulls.”
At AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Nov. 12-15, Owen will bring not one but five bulls well on their way to the highest echelon of bull riding competition — Strange Cargo, Zorro, Lil 2 Train, American Gangster and Struttin Stuff. All five bulls will be eligible to be named the 2020 Yeti PBR World Champion Bucking Bull, and the $100,000 bonus that comes along with it at the conclusion of the four-day event.
“In the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve had a couple of bulls in the running to win it,” Owen said. “This year I think the two top competitors are going to be between Chiseled and Smooth Operator.”
While two bulls on his roster are all in their prime, Owen said they haven’t yet peaked in their performance or maintained top spots with the longevity of his longtime favorite bull, Cochise, who retired as a 9-year-old from the sport in March.
“Cochise was kind of our star,” Owen said. “He spent four years in the top five or six slots and to maintain those spots with longevity is very tough to do.”
While Cochise’s records of a more than 90-point rider average and combined rider winnings of more than $845,000 are impressive figures for any PBR champion, the length of time the bull remained at the top of the game was the true mark of excellence. Better overall care and more attention to quality nutrition means PBR bulls produce and perform with a longevity few herd bulls ever see.
“When herd bulls are turned out to pasture with the cows they don’t get the feed, exercise, vitamins and nutrition that a bucking bull does,” Owen said. “Bucking bulls now, especially in the PBR, are worth so much money now that they get the best of everything.”
Today, most bucking bulls are bred specifically to be athletes rather than discovered, and with the addition of quality care and attention from owners, the bulls adopt a completely different persona outside the ring. The best example of which, Owen said is Bruiser, the Professional Bull Riders World Champion Bull from 2016, 2017 and 2018, owned by D&H Cattle.
“Over time a lot of these bulls will end up like Bruiser — they’d camp out in the house with you like a pet if you’d let them,” Owen said. “It’s amazing how cattle, even of this caliber, when you treat them right and feed them good they get over the bad attitude part of the job.”
When Owen first jumped in to the bucking bull business around 1985, that bad attitude was one of the better traits for identifying a bucking bull candidate. The selection process revolved more around a rank attitude and a big back kick than the science of good genetics.
“Years ago, breeding programs weren’t what they are now, so most bulls I found at sale barns anywhere from Florida to South Texas,” Owen said. “You could find probably 1 out of 10 that could buck, but only 1 out of 100 would be PBR caliber.”
On those trips, Owen said he found markers to identify good athleticism that he continues to use in training today.
“You want the front feet a good distance off the ground and good kick extension,” Owen said. “The turn back and spin, if they do it right off the bat, is not that impressive — it takes time before they will complete the full kick and turn.”
More than anything, Owen said he is excited for the opportunity to continued working and winning with the PBR, especially in a venue as prominent as AT&T Stadium.
“I’m thankful that the PBR has put so much work into keeping the world finals going,” Owen said. “I make my living doing this and there are a number of other people who depend on these events — form those loading the bulls to managing the event — and they’ve kept us in our jobs.”