photo credit by Brooke Wagner

Bucking With the Best: Professional Bull Riders Come to Billings

April 9, 2024

by brooke wagner

Chris LeDoux may have sung it best - “He’s addicted to danger…To pain and fear is no stranger…Hooked on an 8 second ride!” For one weekend in April, MetraPark becomes the ultimate arena for America’s original extreme sport - bull riding. This battle of man versus beast draws crowds from the entire region as captivated audiences gather to watch the world’s best bull riders try to conquer the world’s rankest bucking bulls. The Billings event takes place April 12 - 14, with Friday night starting at 7:45 p.m., Saturday night at 6:45 p.m., and Sunday kicking off at 1:45 p.m. 

The PBR (Professional Bull Riders) began when 20 rodeo cowboys risked $1,000 each to create an organization that would highlight bull riding and only bull riding. Thirty-two years later, that investment has grown into a global organization that includes more than 800 cowboys worldwide and has paid out over $200 million in earnings since it began. The rules are simple; adhering to those rules, not so much. Each cowboy must stay on the bull for 8 seconds. The clock stops if the cowboy touches the bull, loses his grip on his bull rope (a thickly braided piece of rope wrapped around the bull’s chest), or hits the ground. He must ride with only one hand in the rope, waving his other arm (called his “free arm”) high in the air. With a nod of his head, the cowboy indicates he is ready for the chute to open and for the full power of the animal athlete beneath him to be released into the arena. The cowboy and the bull are both scored for their efforts, with a maximum of 50 points potentially awarded to each. Scores in the 90s are coveted, with a few near-perfect scores sprinkled in for good measure. The highest recorded ride was awarded to Jose Vitor Leme aboard “Woopaa” in July of 2021 with a whopping 97.75 points. 

Although many fans come to cheer on the cowboys, there are just as many admirers of the four-legged competitors. Bulls are powerful yet agile creatures, bred specifically to compete. Averaging around 5-6 years of age at time of competition, these animal athletes begin their training much earlier - often as soon as they are 1. Beloved members of the family, they are cared for like kings, fed over 15 pounds of high-quality hay every day. Each bull only bucks once per night at an event, and knows that as soon as his time in the spotlight is over, it’s back to his comfy pen for some food and water. As breeding programs have evolved, the American Bucking Bull is now over 200,000 animals strong, and boasts a lineage that rivals that of racing horses. 

But the PBR isn’t all about that…er…bull. The physical demands of being a bull rider are immense, and only the most elite athlete possesses the core strength, agility, and reflexes required to make it to the PBR. Cowboys must shift their weight to counter the bull’s movements, all while trying not to be thrown into the air. It’s not just physical toughness they wrestle with - mental fortitude also plays a crucial role. Imagine the courage it takes to strap yourself to a 1,500 pound bull whose only goal is to toss you off his back as quickly as possible. If you are victorious, you may be rewarded with the roar of the crowd and a hefty payout. If you fail, however, the risks and dangers are many. Injuries from broken bones to concussions are common, with the potential always there for more severe consequences. Despite the risks, bull riders are driven by the rush of adrenaline and love for the sport, and the thrill of competition that is worth any sacrifice. 

The Billings event is the longest running in the PBR, and starts a race to the finish line for the regular season. The World Finals begin in May of this year, so every point and dollar earned is crucial to a cowboy’s standings heading into the championship. Twenty-two year-old rookie Cassio Dias is the one they are all chasing, and boasts eighteen 90-plus point rides this season. Texas native John Crimber is hot on his heels with fellow Texan Dalton Kasel close behind. The top three riders alone hold season earnings close to $800,000, with over 3 million in prize money on the line at the World Finals in May. During Round 1 and 2 (Friday and Saturday), each bull rider faces one bull each. Following Round 3 on Sunday afternoon, the event’s top 15 riders with the highest two day scores advance to the Championship Round for a final ride, and a shot at being crowned event winner. 

Tickets can be purchased at the MetraPark Arena box office, online at, or by calling 406-256-2422. 

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