No bull: riders, ropers compete in rodeo
SALEM – Nineteen-year-old Josh Wright quickly looked over the brown-and-white ton of bull waiting for him in the chute at the rodeo. Bull No. 523 looked back, warily.
“He’s a good bull,” the breeder from near Charlotte, N.C., said.
Wright stretched his legs, jumped up and down to limber up. He climbed onto the bars leading to the chute, and cinched his bull-riding rope around Bull 523′s middle.
Like most of the bulls waiting for the final competition of the evening, 523 weighed in at somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 pounds. They had been penned up inside the Salem Civic Center for hours, and the beasts were getting antsy.
Bull 523 showed his impatience when Wright approached. The bull lashed out with his left hind leg, and hung it through the bars, trying to get at Wright.
“Bull riding is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 14,” said the Eastern Montgomery High School graduate. “It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I could go to bull riding school in Floyd.”
His goal Friday night was to stay on the bull for 8 seconds and win a share of the prize money. “It would be nice to win a couple of $1,000,” Wright said.
He’s been riding bulls in rodeo competition for a couple of years so far. During the summer he rides most every weekend in Floyd and at other competitions.
“The secret to staying on is to keep going toward the front of the bull, keep your feet turned out and your spurs in him,” said Wright, whose outfit for the night included chaps trimmed in silver with gold fringe, and his black cowboy hat. Some of the bull riders wore helmets, but not Wright.
“Are you ready for some bull?” the announcer yelled, revving up the crowd in the Salem Civic Center arena. Little kids, parents of riders, friends and girlfriends roared back.
The first bull, a huge dark-brown monster, burst out of the chute, throwing off his rider in about two seconds.
Wright’s parents, Stuart and Crystal Wright, watched from the first row of seats, near the stall where their son cinched his bull. Josh’s sister, Kimberly, who is 21, was on the other side of the arena. His friends, Drew Harvey and Samantha Smith, both of Elliston, waited with Josh until he took his position.
“Drew and I grew up together. He’s usually riding with me,” Wright said. “My sponsor fell through for this one,” Harvey explained. The entry fee for Friday night was $70.
Trouble waited in chute 3. Bull 523 tried lying down with Wright on his back before exploding out of the gate, dumping his rider in about 1 second, then aiming for him.
Wright scrambled to escape the bull’s horns as rodeo clowns deflected the bull’s attention. Wright retrieved his hat and walked back to the pen area behind the arena with his friends.
“The bull just blew up out of there,” Wright’s friend Harvey said. “I tried to go with him,” Wright said. “I just didn’t get there.”
His failure to stay on long enough to collect prize money didn’t deter Wright, who broke his left wrist, his riding hand, in the Salem rodeo last year. “I’m going to ride next in February. It might be in Oklahoma. In March, I’ll be riding in Bristol.”
His daytime job is as a machinist with Graham-White in Salem, working on big equipment for buses, trains and semis.
Wright was the only Elliston contestant listed. A New Castle contestant in Sunday’s barrel-racing turned out to be from New Castle, Ind.
Nineteen-year-old Catie Fairchild has ties to Virginia, though, she mentioned in a telephone interview with The New Castle Record.
“My daddy, Jim Fairchild, was a livestock auctioneer and held a monthly horse sale in Wytheville before he died,” she said.
Catie was traveling eight hours one way to compete in the Salem rodeo with her friends, Sherry Sunden, another barrel racer, and Shayde Etherton, who competes in calf roping and steer wrestling.
Fairchild rode her sorrel quarter horse, Skippy, who is 14. The two have been competing since she was a junior in high school, and she’s a sophomore in college now. She went to East Tennessee University last year, but returned home to study at Ivy Tech Community College after her dad died, she said.
Sherry’s dad was one of the judges at the rodeo last weekend, said Fairchild, and Shayde Etherton’s dad, Alan Etherton, is a retired rodeo clown.
And although her life revolves around rodeos right now, she has other plans for her career. “I’m going to be an elementary school teacher,” Fairchild said.