Granbury’s City Beach Park is not exactly where old bull riders go in retirement, but it is not quite the big show either.
Under a sunny and speckless sky Saturday, it was where bull riders young and old went to get their fix.
“It’s a drug,” 18-year-old Austin Chaffin said of riding the muscular bucking behemoths.
“There is nothing like it,” said the Texan by way of Southern California.
A dozen feet from Chaffin, 50-year-old Santiago Martinez agrees: “Riding bulls is the best drug.”
Some 53 bull riders from all over the world converged on a sandy strip of Lake Granbury for the “Bulls on the Beach” event. Their rides, at least for those 35 years and older, were sanctioned by the Senior World Professional Bull Riders Association.
Hundreds of spectators cheered on the riders and, in between the action, were entertained by the comedic commentary of Kelly Clark — the rodeo clown and a primary partner in Chute 2 Productions that produced the event. If bull riding failed to impress, youngsters scrambling after calves for a prize had to soften cynical hearts.
The eighth edition of the lakeside rodeo kicked off spring with a series of 8-second snippets of ground-pounding action.
“This is an opportunity to send guys to keep riding, doing what they love,” Clark said. “These are bull riders who have kind of aged out in the professional ranks.”
But make no mistake, these bulls don’t know that.
“When you’re doing it, it’s an eternity,” he said.
If a rider hangs on the required 8 seconds, judges score up to 50 points for the rider’s form and up to 50 points for the bucking bull.
Clark is familiar with the thrill. He grew up with it. His father, John Clark, was a 3-time world champion, and soon to be inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame.
“My wife put up with my bull riding career for 32 years,” he said.
This is not for the faint of heart.
“You’re scared to death for one thing,” he said. “It’s very dangerous, but you have to set that out of your mind.”
So, how does one become a bull rider?
“What they tell you is that you take a handful of marbles and you put them in your mouth,” he said. “Every time you get on a bull you spit out a marble.
“When you’ve lost all your marbles, you’re a bull rider,” he said with a guffaw, clearly pleased with his joke.
The reality is not very far from that.
After hanging on for the requisite time, riders have to dismount a clearly annoyed animal. The results are not always pretty — hitting the ground or the metal rail with some force.
And yet they ride.
“I’ve been riding bulls all my life,” Martinez said. “I love it.”
The cowboy from Laredo has an emotional connection to the animals.
“They’re my friends,” he said, as he squats quietly outside a pen eye-to-eye with one of the animals.
To be fair, the bulls used at the event “are a little bit toned down,” Clark said. “They’re not quite as aggressive.”
Still, we are talking about 1,500-pound animals trying to throw you off their backs.
“The bulls don’t know what we’re doing. They don’t know who’s riding them,” he said. “They’re what we call the old rodeo campaigners just like the guys who ride them.”
What the bulls and riders did over the weekend was put on a good show.
“It feels good to be out here,” said Charles Knapp, who drove with his wife and two granddaughters from Cresson to see the show.
“We had the grandkids so we took them to watch the bull riders,” his wife, Michele, said.
One of their granddaughters, Britney Oliver, clearly knew what she came to see: “I’m here to watch people fall off the bulls.”
It’s been a long, hard year.
“We’ve been cooped up for so long,” Knapp said. “And about a month ago it was minus 2 degrees and now we’re out under a bright sun.”