Who says you can't make a good living spreading the bull or at least raising them. H.D. Page and his father Dillon raise their bulls to buck, kick and raise cain for a Friday night crowd.
After trying his hand at riding bulls in rodeo at age 14, H.D. (short for Hoyt Dillion) Page broke his hip at 16. But he didn't quit on the rodeo. Now 27, Page has been bringing some of the most athletic competitors to the rodeo arena for the past 10 years.
It all started with a National Finals Rodeo bull, "Super Dave," and six or seven cows, the cowboy said in his Oklahoma drawl. Today at his ranch in Ardmore, Okla., Page is the primary caregiver to a herd of more than 200 bulls.
Page brought his top 20 bulls to compete in this weekend's Mazatzal Casino Professional Bull Riders Challenge at the Payson Rodeo Grounds. He traveled more than 1,200 miles and spent 16 hours on the road to bring his best athletes to the show.
"I brought all I felt I had that I was comfortable with," Page said. Because there will be as many as 50 rides each night, up to four other contractors and even some local bulls will be competing against Page's bulls. Bulls are not judged by breed or size, but strictly on their athleticism and showmanship.
"They just want good bulls is what it comes down to," Page said.
A good bull will perform in the arena giving the cowboy the best possible chance at a high mark. Riders are judged on their performance as well as that of their mount.
In this weekend's adventure, rodeo ticket holders should watch for Copperhead. Page considers him his best bull. Copperhead Sr. has been to the NFR, and at age 5, Junior has already been to the Professional Bull Riders finals.
In 1999 Copperhead has had only three complete rides. Cowboys Dusty Labeth, Cody Hardt and Troy Dunn have gone eight seconds aboard the rank critter, and each scored more than 90 points.
Another bull to watch is Gusto; a little black bull Page calls "a little punk." He's the bad boy of the group. Just about the time Page thinks he's settled in to the routine, Gusto acts up.
"He gets frustrated 'bout like me just the traveling and carrin' on, he gets restless and gets to pickin' on something," Page said.
So why bring him on the road? Because this year Gusto is the top moneymaker in the PBR. The cowboys have won more money on him than on any other bull in the circuit, making him a little gold mine.
It is these high-scoring bulls that Page will breed, hoping to bring the next generation of snot-slinging buckers to rodeo fans. A top-ranked bull can be worth as much as $20,000, Page said.
Page starts his bulls when they are 2 or 3 years old at high school rodeos, letting the animals and the riders grow up in the sport together. He says it takes three to four years to see a return. "Up until then you are just pourin' in the dough, hopin' they will buck," he said.
Watching over his herd of raucous bovines, Page tips the horns and checks for injury on a daily basis. "The horns have to be as blunt as a 50-cent piece," Page said.
One last favorite for the fans to watch for is Romeo, a big brahma who also made the PBR finals last year, and whom Page calls a pet.