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National Finals Rodeo

From buckles to helmets, the gear it takes to ride bulls in the National Finals Rodeo

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Bull rider Shane Proctor
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

His 90-point “monster ride” on Pound the Alarm in the PBR World Finals back in October set the stage for Shane Proctor to make some noise at the National Finals Rodeo (December 5-14 at the Thomas & Mack Center). At the 2011 NFR, he won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s world championship before he even got on his final bull, Black Attack, and it was a lucky thing.

“I went down, and the bull stepped on my back and slid down my arm and shattered my arm. I ended up having to get two plates and 16 screws put in,” says Proctor, who endured a 40-hour drive back home to North Carolina for surgery. You tell him he’s crazy, and he just smiles. “Bull riders are professional gamblers that aren’t real good at it. They’ve just gotta get the job done one way or another.”

Getting the job done requires specialized tools, even if you’re distinguished enough to have a bull named after you—Dr. Proctor—and to represent the sport wearing nothing but boots in ESPN the Magazine’s 2009 “Body Issue.” Proctor showed us his boots and everything else he’ll be wearing when the chute flies open at the NFR.

HAT While Proctor rides in a helmet, his cowboy hat is the first thing he grabs after the buzzer. They come standard, and Proctor says you steam and shape them to fit you. Joe’s Boot Shop gifted him this 100X beaver-felt hat, which he says runs about $1,400.

VEST Inside the shell of this Phoenix vest are plastic plates designed to spread out the force of a hit from a bull. “You always feel when you get stepped on, but you’re thankful for the vest because you know it’s there. It could definitely be worse.” In addition to sponsors, Proctor reps the Rider Relief Fund, which provides financial assistance to bull riders and bull fighters injured in a line of work that doesn’t lend itself to qualifying for health insurance.

BUCKLE At events like the NFR, competitors and attendees will show off their most impressive hardware. “This is from Salinas, California. That rodeo’s been going for 102 years, one of the major rodeos out of California. It’s one of the most beautiful buckles that I’ve won.”

GLOVE Made in Idaho, this Tiffany glove is pure deerskin. The soft leather allows good hand flexing, and the supple surface takes rosin well for a sticky grip. “Anytime you’re going up against a 2,000-pound animal, that’s a lot of force. The physics of it don’t work. So you try to make your rope as sticky as possible.”

ROPE Proctor’s rope is American-made. He says the bells are about tradition, and the extra weight makes it easier to yank the rope off a bull as soon as a ride is done.

Bull rider Shane Proctor's hand has been shattered several times, which resulted in the build-up of cartilage that causes his thumb to stick out.

HAND “That one’s been shattered so many times. That’s all cartilage built up; that’s why my thumb sticks out like that,” Proctor says of his gripping hand, adding that the thumb actually makes it easier for him to hold a split-finger wrap (aka “suicide wrap”), which comes with a higher risk of getting hung up on a bull. “I usually split it, because we don’t get paid unless we stay on.”

HELMET The shell is a Nike Bauer 5500 hockey helmet, and the face mask is Bull Tough titanium built just for bull riding. “This one I’ve actually had for three years. … It’s saved my melon several times.”

CHAPS Proctor makes custom chaps and has outfitted the likes of two-time PBR World Champion Chris Shivers and his own brother-in-law, J.B. Mauney, who won the 2013 PBR world title in dominant form. Proctor hand-tooled this set for his fans, who love the pop of zebra, but chaps aren’t all for flair. “They protect you in the chute a little bit. One of the main functions is, if you get stepped on they’re slick, so it slides down more. It doesn’t allow the bull to put full pressure on you.”

BOOTS Gator-belly boots by Cinch provide stylish protection for Proctor’s feet during trips through the air and back down to earth. The spurs have no sharp edges. “We’re not here to hurt these animals in any way. … They’re athletes, too.”

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