Tombstone trainer reveals what it takes to make a rodeo bull

Published: Feb. 21, 2020 at 10:30 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tucson rodeo makes its annual stop in Tucson near the middle of February every year. It’s one of the most popular stops on the pro rodeo circuit.

One of the most popular events in the rodeo, is bull riding. A 2,000 pound muscle athlete versus a 150 pound cowboy. It does not seem like a fair fight.In most cases, it is not.

Bucking bulls are winning more of the battles and cowboys fewer.

It’s because breeding and training have improved dramatically.

“We’re making better bulls,” Mike Trask, owner of MT Bucking Bulls in Tombstone, said. “But we’re not making better riders.”

Trask was one of those riders for 20 years.

“I got on my first bull when I was 11,” Trask said.

But he hung his riding boots after he turned 31 years old.

“It wasn’t the broken bones, I was just done doing it,” he said. “I just didn’t have the passion for it anymore.”

While he lost his passion riding bulls, his passion for the bulls themselves never went away. That’s why he has the small, 5-acre breeding and training operation in Tombstone.

“You don’t do it for the money,” Trask said. “You do it for the passion.”

That passion is shared by his wife Candice.

“They are our everything,” she said. “I love them.”

Every morning, she scoops out two, 25 pound buckets of special feed and walks through muck and mud to feed the five bulls and four cows. Every evening, she repeats the process, whether rain or shine, hot or cold.

Mike works at a local chemical plant 40 to 50 hours a week to pay for bull riding operation so much of the day to day stuff is left to Candice, his business partner.

“I try to make it easier for him because he’s gone for 12 to 14 hours a day,” she said. “So anything I can do to make it easier on him.”

But there’s nothing easy about training a 2,000 pound bull. Mike has three bulls in training right now, all 2-year-olds, which have a chance of making it to the pro rodeo circuit.

“They’re trying,” he says. “They just don’t know what they’re doing yet.”

All bulls are born to buck, “some just do it more than others,” Trask said. Every few weeks, he will simulate a rodeo event to see how far they’ve progressed and if he can move them along a little bit.

“They’ve got to have that desire to win and that fire within,” he said. “I’m trying to put that in a bottle so to speak.”

He wants that fire to explode once the chute is opened and the game is on. He straps a 25 pound dummy to their backs and a cotton flank strap around their hind quarters. The chute opens and the bulls perform.

After four seconds, when the bull kicks and turns high enough, Trask pushes the remote control button and both are released simultaneously.The bull wins the round.

“They can’t lose every time and keep wanting to be competitive,” he said.

By rewarding the bull when it jumps and kicks, the positive reinforcement will make it jump higher and kick more next time. Trask assessed his prize students after each took a turn at the dummy.

All three of Trask’s bulls will likely make the rodeo scene somewhere, even if they don’t improve enough to become a Pro Bull Riding superstar. It’s hard work getting the bulls separated, getting them in the chute, strapping on the dummy and flank strap and evaluating their progress, Candice will pull open the gate on her husband’s command. She will also gather up the dummy and strap for the next round.

It’s a family affair, as daughter Shaley also lends a hand. A true mom-and-pop operation.

“We really don’t make much,” Candice said. “We have to work to support this but we couldn’t see ourselves not doing this.”

It takes years of care, and training to find out if a bucking bull is the real thing or not. However, it’s all worth it to the Trask’s even if it takes an extra dollar.

“How do you make a million dollars raising bucking bulls?” Trask said. “You start with two million.”

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