Bucking For Dollars- The Winner of the PBR World Finals Takes Home a Cool Million


Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? They’re roping themselves down on the backs of snarling mad 1800 lb. bulls with charming namesakes like Werewolf Snuff, Pandora’s Box and Scene of the Crash and trying to hang on for eight spine rattling

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? They’re roping themselves down on the backs of snarling mad 1800 lb. bulls with charming namesakes like Werewolf Snuff, Pandora’s Box and Scene of the Crash and trying to hang on for eight spine rattling seconds with just one hand.

Crank the Toby Keith up to 11 and toss in enough pyro to make Kiss blush, and all of a sudden this whirling interspecies dance of hats-over–horns-over-hooves that has been a rodeo staple for over a century is packing arenas from Chilliwack, B.C. to Chihuahua, Mexico. The PBR (Professional Bull Riders Inc) was founded in 1992 by 20 riders who ponied up $1000 a piece to launch a league that would transform bull riding into a bona fide standalone sport. The PBR now attracts upwards of 104 million viewers per year on NBC, OLN and dozens of foreign networks in 38 countries and is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. According to a Scarborough Research study 18 million fans watched or attended a PBR event last year, that’s a 44% over 2002 figures. How ya’ll like that X Games—Bull got your tongue?


“There is nothing phony about our sport,” explains Michael Gaffney a former PBR World Champion who retired in 2005 and now provides colour commentary on OLN broadcasts.

“You’ve got a rider, you’ve got a bull and you’ve got a contest for eight seconds and there are no timeouts. There is no make believe in this business. There is real power, real energy and it’s real dangerous.”

The fact that at any moment a cowboy can be hurled headfirst into the dirt and have his collarbone crunched like a rice krispy feeds our inner caveman synapses, the same innate receptors that tickled us inside every time Sylvestor the cat got mauled by the bulldog.

“Why do people go to a car race? Not to say that you want to see someone get killed, but you do want to see someone almost get killed-It’s edge of your seat, ‘is it going to happen’ excitement,” says Gaffney.

More Wrecks Than NASCAR
Even if a rider lasts the full eight seconds (the clock starts ticking when the bull bounds out of the bucking chute), riders still have to dismount which is almost as difficult as holding on because this isn’t football or hockey where a blown whistle will grind the action to a halt. Spills are so frequent that even the top cowboys’ ride percentage (think bull riding’s equivalent of on-base percentage) is in the 50% ballpark.

“Every time you nod your head, a bull ride has the potential of getting ugly.”
If you do your job well, hopefully it is somewhat of a controlled car wreck,” says Gaffney.
“The "exit" (getting off the beast) can be the difference between being injured or being safe and ready for another day,” he adds.

A reminder of the sport’s potential peril is a prayer for the safety of the animals, athletes and audience, which is recited before every PBR event. Six years ago, Nanton, Alberta native Glen Keeley, who had been competing on the PBR circuit since its inception went to cowboy heaven after Promise Land stomped on his chest in a PBR event in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Keeley walked out of the arena after the incident but succumbed to internal injuries later that day in the hospital. Despite the sport’s reaper-tempting reputation, Keeley is the only rider to die on the PBR circuit.

Tune in to the PBR 2006 World Finals in Las Vegas on OLN/VERSUS to find out who will win the gold buckle and walk away with the $1million dollar winner’s purse. Airs through 11/5. Schedule at

The harder the bull bucks the better because half of the rider’s score is judged on how difficult the animal is to ride. A perfect score for a ride is 100 points, with a maximum of 50 points awarded to a rider and 50 points to the bull. The highest score ever awarded in a PBR event was 96.5 and the record is shared by three cowboys including Michael Gaffney who pulled off the feat in 2004 aboard Little Yellow Jacket.

Judges rate riders on their style, control and ability to match moves with the beast they’re aboard. Bulls get marked on the speed, power and agility they display in their performance. If a bull is too sedate and doesn’t perform up to the standards of the PBR, judges will award a cowboy a re-ride on another animal. There are typically three rounds in bull riding competitions (eight rounds in the World Finals) and only the top 15 cowboys at a PBR event advance to the final ride. Scoring is cumulative and riders must hang on for the entire eight seconds to earn points so consistency is key—a cowboy who scores 90 and then gets tossed loses to a rider who rides two consecutive 60s.

Copyright © Mike Dojc 2006

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