Thursday, April 11, 2013

Breeding Better Bucking Bulls


From the Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2013:

"[I]n the struggle between cowboy and bull, the cowboy suddenly doesn't stand much of a chance.
The past decade or so has seen a historic shift in the balance of power in the bull-riding industry. The best riders on the pro circuit used to hang on long enough to complete the requisite eight-second ride 85% of the time. Today's top cowboy on the elite Professional Bull Riders tour, Shane Proctor, has a career success rate of just 39%.
The top bull today, a 1,750-pound, high-kicking, whirling Dervish named Bushwacker, has thrown 40 cowboys in a row. No man has stayed on him for eight seconds since 2009.
"We're not breeding the cowboys quite as good as we're breeding the bulls," says Steve Ravenscroft, a stockman in Hyannis, Neb., whose bulls—named Doctor Spoon and Alabama Jig—handily dispatched their riders at a competition in Stephenville last month.
Back in the day, rodeo organizers would take whatever Ferdinand was grazing in the pasture and put a cowboy on top. Now bucking bulls are treated like chunky racehorses, with their breeders driven by big prize money that used to be reserved only for riders.
Bulls have personal trainers, a bloodline registry, in vitro fertilization, life insurance and an NFL-style draft. Rich urbanites board bulls with specialty ranchers and watch them compete on weekends. Champion bulls are paired with cows that have produced great buckers in the past. Some breeders have even cloned their best animals; there are four clones of a bull named Panhandle Slim on the circuit today. [!!!!]

Better bulls, of course, mean worse injuries for the cowboys—who usually live hand-to-mouth and earn only when they win.

Mr. Proctor's $1 million in winnings over nine years have cost him a broken jaw, a shattered left arm, a broken foot, broken legs and several broken ribs.

His brother-in law, No. 4 rider J.B. Mauney, a 26-year-old from Mooresville, N.C., has earned $3 million in prize money over his eight-year professional career. He has also suffered a broken leg, a collapsed lung and a lacerated liver.

Before riding a bull named Bring It's Pride at Stephenville, Cayd Kluesner, a 22-year-old minor-leaguer from Salmon, Idaho, took out a well-thumbed "The Way for Cowboys Bible" and read Philippians 4:13 to himself, mouthing the words: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

A few hours later, Bring It's Pride bucked off Mr. Kluesner shy of the eight seconds. The cowboy landed safely on his feet. Apparently dissatisfied, the bull pivoted, lifted Mr. Kluesner on its horns and threw him into the air. This time, Mr. Kluesner crashed onto his back in the dirt.

At the Stephenville event, cowboys stayed on for the full eight seconds in just 28 of 190 rides.

Old-timers say the best bulls of the present are no better than the great bulls of the past. It's just that there aren't any duds in competition anymore; every bull is bred to buck savagely.

Most aficionados, however, believe Bushwacker is something special, perhaps the greatest ever. He remains calm as the rider climbs on in the chute, saving his energy for the moment the gate swings open. Then he might spring four feet in the air, changing direction in flight like a bovine Michael Jordan.

"He's never done the same thing twice," says Mr. Mauney, who has been thrown by Bushwacker eight times.

Austin Meier, 26, of Kinta, Okla., won $52,000 and the Iron Cowboy title last month by staying on Bushwacker for a mere 2.67 seconds. (His career riding record: 49%. His career medical record: Two ACL operations, plates and screws in both sides of his jaw, elbow surgery, ankle surgery, wrist surgery and a sinus crushed by a horn.)

Bushwacker's owner, Julio Moreno, of Oakdale, Calif., has a freezer full of the bull's semen that sells for at least $3,000 per unit. Mr. Moreno is holding on to most of his stash in the belief it will grow only more valuable as his champ's successes mount. He says he turned down an offer for $750,000 for the bull.

Many hobbyists have neither the expertise nor facilities to prepare a bull for competition. So they hire a personal trainer, such as Gilbert Carrillo, owner of 4C's Bucking Bulls & Training Facility in Stephenville.

Mr. Carrillo, 41, provides trainee bulls a muscle-building diet and exercise regimen. He runs them endlessly through chutes, blaring loud music, until they are comfortable with the routine they will encounter in the arena.

Mr. Carrillo says he can teach spinning, but a bull either kicks or it doesn't. He uses Pavlovian techniques to reinforce bulls' innate skills. Mr. Carrillo straps a 24-pound box to its back and, when the animal bucks well, rewards him by using a remote control that makes the box fall off."

[End Excerpt]
By the way, that's actually a Skinnerian technique (negative reinforcement), not "Pavlovian".
Once upon a time, some stockmen might have had moral or ethical qualms about cloning a champion bull. But given sufficient incentives, those qualms quickly fade into the background. Stay tuned for cloned horses in competition. By the way, the rheseus monkey is among the many species that have been cloned. When people assert that "we will never see human cloning," they are expressing a wish, not making a science-based statement about the possibility of artificial human cloning.


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