The Dartmouth visits a bull riding tournament in Manchester
An intrepid professional bull rider attempts to stay atop his bull for the requisite eight seconds.
MANCHESTER — For a state engulfed with events dedicated toward the upcoming primary, New Hampshire hosting a professional bull riding tournament at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena last weekend was a dramatic change of pace. Despite a snow storm blanketing the local roads, dozens of bulls and riders — along with thousands of spectators — took part in the two-day Manchester Invitational, the first Professional Bull Riders, Inc. series in the city’s history.
Armed with press passes and a positive attitude, The Dartmouth visited the Jan. 18 event and was granted ground-level views of the festivities.
Widely recognized as one of the most dangerous professional sport leagues, PBR has embraced this reputation, adopting the mantra of “the most dangerous sport on dirt.” Beyond the challenge of dozens of riders trying to stay atop the bull for eight seconds, the league also takes pride in its traditional values — commonly encapsulated in what PBR calls the “cowboy values” of kindness, hard work, integrity and sacrifice. The league also takes pride in audience entertainment in between rides.
These elements were on full display at last Saturday’s show, the third installment of this year’s “Unleash the Beast” series, following events at Madison Square Garden and in Chicago. After a pyrotechnics display — including the letters PBR written with fire in the dirt of the SNHU arena — and the riders’ introduction, the audience paused for a joint prayer and the singing of the national anthem. After this introduction, the show began its 36-ride slate — split across six sections. In between rides and sections, PBR’s famous rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen, a former high school teacher and seven-time Coors Man of the Can winner, entertained the spectators in the crowd.
“We love how you talk — sort of,” Rasmussen joked to the New England audience, which contained many first-time attendees.
For New Hampshire fans new to the sport, the arena broadcast a “PBR 101” on the Jumbotron above the bucking chute, detailing basic rules for bull riding.
A rider must maintain a one-handed grip atop his bull for at least eight seconds without placing his free hand on the bull or his own body in order to receive a score. The ride starts when the bull rampages out of the chute and ends when the rider loses grip of the bull rope, touches the ground or misplaces his hand.
Judges score the rider on their “control, rhythm and how they match movement with the bull” while evaluating the bull on “how hard [he] bucks and how high he kicks: power, speed, spin and direction change,” according to the video. The ride score is aggregated out of 100 available points, with an average score in the 80s and exceptional scores reaching the 90s.
While many of the attendees of the tournament were first-timers, PBR regular and bull owner Dave Rice said that the sport is able to thrive in cities and regions of the United States outside of its main audience base. According to Rice, the “cowboy spirit” can grow in cities as much as it does in the country, and the energy of the sport often captures audiences.
“It’s a fast-paced, high energy show,” Rice said. “It’s the thrill of the most dangerous sport in the world.”
The advertisement and endorsements in the area appeared to be tailored toward the audience’s interests. Advertisements for the Ford F-Series, Wrangler jeans, Cooper Tires and Yeti were plastered across the arena. One of the foremost sponsors of the event was the United States Border Patrol, which posted signs in the arena and had agents around the stadium dedicated to public relations and recruiting. The Border Patrol also played a major role in the event itself, with the “U.S. Border Protection Team” corralling the bulls back into their pens following each ride.
About half (17 of 36) of the riders held on long enough to receive a score on Saturday night. When a rider held on past eight seconds, the center stage cannon fired and the riders received enormous applause. For much of the night, veteran Brazilian riders Dener Barbosa, Kaique “Ice Man” Pacheco and Junio Quaresima led the pack, receiving scores of 87.5, 86.25 and 86.25 respectively. The 25-year-old Pacheco won the 2018 World Championship despite a torn MCL and PCL, and finished second in the world standings across all series in 2015 and 2016.
In between rides, Rasmussen entertained audience members with comedy bits, advertisements and commentary about the rides. These bits ranged from reciting the Gettysburg Address for a Coors ad to shooting a T-shirt cannon for Wrangler Jeans, to walking — or at times stepping over — the lines of political correctness.
“You know what happens when people get offended?” Rasmussen asked at one point. “Nothing.”
As the night grew old, the younger competition showed up in full force. Twenty-two-year-old Colten Jesse — introduced by the host as “cool, calm, collected Colten” — etched his name into second on the leaderboard Saturday with 87.25 points, and ultimately claimed second overall in the invitational by producing upper 80s scores the next day. Jesse was far from the youngest rider though, as the event featured several 19-year-old riders and other college-age athletes.
A pair of young stars closed out the evening, as Jess Lockwood and Jose Vitor Leme looked to defend their respective first and second finishes in the world standings last year. Leme rode to the top score of the night with 89 points before he was thrown off into the railing. Lockwood, the reigning champion, put up 86.5 points in the round, and he built on Saturday night’s momentum the next day with scores of 90.5 and 92.25 to win the invitational.
For many of the first-time audience members, the show matched or exceeded expectations, with responses varying from excitement for the newfound sport to gladness that they witnessed the unique show.
“This is the best thing that’s ever come to this place,” New Hampshire resident Emma Dee said once the show concluded.