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The Mismatch Between Bulls and Riders Is Getting Greater, Because of Genetics

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Somewhere in America, nearly every week of the yr, skilled bull riders climb onto the backs of 1,500-pound animals, nod that they’re ready and check out to hold on when the chute opens and the bulls go off like bombs beneath them.

On this perennial mismatch between massive, unpredictable animals and the (mostly) men who ride them, the bulls’ advantage is just getting greater, due to advances in genetics.

Over the past 20 years, breeders have relied on the registry maintained by American Bucking Bull, Inc. to assist them discover champion bulls. Because breeders use anywhere from seven to 10 sires with one dam to extend their probability of birthing a champion, they need the registry to inform them whether their bull calf shares DNA with one of the best buckers.

“Consider it like Maury Povich,” explained Marlissa Gonzalez, the director of the registry. “We’re telling breeders who the daddy is.”

While Gonzalez and her team can’t isolate specific genes for bucking, kicking and leaping, they’ll use their database of nearly 400,000 bulls to trace an animal’s lineage back six generations. Due to that data, champion bulls at the moment are scattered across the country just like the myriad descendants of Genghis Khan.

“After I began, about 15 years ago, we could only do two generations,” Gonzalez said. “Now, the probabilities of getting bucker are a lot higher. The bloodline gives you all the fitting parts and pieces, from the strengths that include good legs to the muscular construct that helps them buck.”

The development in bulls presents a challenge to riders, who’re produced the old-fashioned way.

“I’ve been saying for 20 years: They higher start breeding cowboys,” said Roddy Coquat, a rider turned judge.

Riders grow up hearing in regards to the death of Lane Frost, whose broken ribs pierced his heart and lungs at an event in Wyoming in 1989. After that, P.B.R., the skilled bull riding circuit, mandated using protective vests. Many riders now wear helmets, too, though they should not required for anyone born before Oct. 15, 1994. Still, deaths persist. Most recently, Amadeu Campos Silva, a 22-year-old Brazilian rider, died after being stomped by a bull at a 2021 P.B.R. event in Fresno, Calif.

The cold-eyed fury of the bulls and the relative vulnerability of the riders were evident on the North Texas Fair and Rodeo in Denton, Texas, in late August. It took 4 cowboys to stabilize Junio Quaresima atop one bull. When the chute opened, Quaresima by some means held on through five seconds of bucking, leaping, twisting and kicking, his spine bending like a fishing rod. Then he landed within the dirt and correctly scurried to safety.

The words emblazoned on Quaresima’s vest provided all of the commentary that was needed: “I’m crazy.”

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