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8 Seconds: Libby 18-year-old chases dream of one day conquering bull riding

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| March 12, 2009 12:00 AM

His face met the bull’s horn, hammering his nose and cheekbone. He took two steps and passed out.

It was Jason Colclough’s third try conquering a bull, which despite its 1,500-pound-plus shape is agile enough to perform a swift, powerful combination of back-end kicks, spins, direction changes and mid-air body rolls.

Colclough has the video footage from the run-in. He doesn’t actually remember what happened, but the shot shows that he came to after a few seconds and, he proudly points out, he walked out of the arena.  

Like the moment before a car accident, eight seconds on a bull slows time. The beast won that night, knocking Colclough off in seconds.

From then on, his mom made him wear a helmet.

Colclough, an 18-year-old Libby High School senior, rode his first bull last July. Now he’s determined, as long as he’s physically able, to hop on any bull that comes his way. Colclough has succumbed to the disease that country stars sing about – he’s a junkie to the game that usually only leads to broken bones. 

“I was hooked on my first ride,” Colclough said. “It’s the adrenaline rush. My legs start shaking just from the rush – not from nervousness. You just can’t wait until the gate opens.”

Colclough secures his spurs to his boots after arriving at the rodeo arena. Regular ones stick straight out from the heel, but bull-riding spurs must be set inward. Judges grant riders extra “style” points for spurring the bull during the ride.

He’s made it to all six winter rodeo events at Eureka’s Lake Koocanusa Arena, one of the only indoor venues for several miles, and is now here for his seventh. He says that his girlfriend doesn’t mind that he plans on missing prom for the series’ finals next week.

“She’d rather go to the rodeo, too,” he said, though he introduced her to her first rodeo just last month.    

Once his spurs are tied, Colclough carefully wraps tape around the fingers and palm of his right hand. Though he’s not scheduled to ride for another three hours, the tape needs to stretch before he slides his hand into a leather glove and straps himself to the bull with a rope. The other hand must stay in the air the entire ride – touching the bull, or “slapping,” results in disqualification even if he makes it eight seconds. 

So far, he has yet to make it to the whistle, though he’s gotten tenths of a second away. He hopes to change that today.

It’s been eight months since Colclough began, but it’s a story that has been in the making for at least 10 years.

Colclough was a grade-schooler when he accompanied his parents to a Eureka rodeo. From behind the chutes, he watched the enormous beasts throw their heads and blow snot, preparing to burst out and knock a cowboy in the dirt.

“P.J. Morrison set me on the back of a bull that he was going to ride that night,” Colclough recalled, “and ever since then I wanted to become a bull rider.”

Morrison – a Libby native who is now retired from professional bull riding – and several other men in cowboy hats, boots and spurs held 7-year-old Colclough on a bull that was trained to buck when feeling weight on its back.

Colclough never forgot the giddy feeling of having that much power beneath him.

He could have begun sooner. Kids younger than 17 usually start out riding young bulls or miniature bulls to prepare for their larger and harder-bucking counterparts.  

Colclough never got around to it. When he did decide to go for it, he took one quick lesson from Morrison before entering the Columbia Falls Blue Moon Bull Bash.

“I had an old barrel that I showed him chute procedure on, how to sit on a bull in the chute, how to get your rope ready,” Morrison recalled. “I was hoping to get him on a practice bull first, but he entered a rodeo before I had a chance.”

“Other than P.J.’s advice,” Colclough said, “it was get on a bull and ride.”

Clad in Morrison’s spurs and chaps and another rider’s protective vest, Colclough depended on his friend to tie the rope around the bull’s body that first time. He was nervous and inexperienced.

He has since acquired his own gear, including a helmet and bull rope, and has been keeping up with other costs of the game.

“It’s an expensive sport,” Colclough said. “The entry fee and gas money adds up pretty quickly but I have a few sponsors to help out.”

Colclough drove to Eureka on that night in poor road conditions and paid a $50 entry fee. In exchange, he would get a few seconds on a bull that was bred for rodeo.

The travel time and money is worth it, he says.

“He’s eating, living and breathing it,” Morrison said. “When I was a kid his age, that’s all I wanted to do is ride bulls.”

When Colclough began bull riding with friends last summer, they drove over 250 miles to Drummond a few times to practice on a stock contractor’s finest.

“You can get on as many bulls as you want to, and there’s no entry fee,” Colclough said.

Since then, his mom Carla Colclough said, some of his friends have lost interest.

“He’s kind of like the lone ranger out there now,” she said. “There’s just no stopping him.”

One of Colclough’s friends has taken a break from the sport since a bull thrashed him for nearly a minute and a half.

“He’s taking some time off,” Colclough said, “but I think he’ll get back to it.”

Injury is imminent.

“If you do it long enough, you’re going to get hurt,” Morrison said. “You might as well accept it. It breaks an egg in a lot of people and they never ride again.”

Colclough drew El Loco, last month’s winning bull. If he can make it eight seconds without slapping, the bull’s performance will make up half his score.

He believes he has a chance. Though he has a long way to go, he has progressed.

Bull 69 threw Colclough off twice now, but by comparing photos of November’s ride to February’s, he sees improvement.

"I was just laying on his back trying to hold on (in November)," Colclough said. In February's photo "I was actually sitting upright, and I made it two spins and a couple of jump kicks.”

Colclough loiters behind the chutes tonight, elevated on plywood planks, spitting tobacco and visiting with other bull riders. The bulls are encased in metal chutes so narrow that they have to tilt their heads to get their horns through. 

Colclough gives advice to another rider.

“If you feel yourself not breathing in the chute, start singing,” he says. “Next time, get looser jeans, too.”

Team roping is coming to a close and the next section of bull riding is about to begin. Fast-paced music blares through the arena. Bull riders and bulls alike begin to shift.

Using a long metal wire hook that looks like a bent clothes hanger, men in chaps wrap the bull rope around the bull’s body, just behind the front legs, within the confines of the chute.

After the gate is pulled for a bull rider, the men chant, “Breathe, breathe, breathe!”

It’s almost Colclough’s turn. The fringe on his chaps wave as he mimics bull-riding movements to loosen up his muscles. He has already applied rosin to his glove so that it won’t slip.

He’s having trouble getting the bull rope on right. Plywood bends under the bouncing rhythm of his feet. He cautiously sits on El Loco’s blond and brown striped back, his legs tight between bull and metal. The bull throws its hind legs in the air and Colclough feels his leg being crushed.

At last, the gate is pulled and El Loco is unleashed.

It’s over within seconds.

“I got in three or four good bucks,” Colclough says, after catching his breath.

The bull won again. 

Koocanusa Arena, Eureka

Upcoming Events

March 21 – Winter Series Finals

April 25 – Rendezvous Roughstock Rodeo with “largest barn dance in the Northwest” to follow.

Directions: From Libby, take Highway 37 toward Eureka, turn left at Highway 93. The arena will be on the right within a few miles.

More Info: Go online to www.lkarena.com