At the age of 3, J.B. Mauney started riding sheep. At 9, he tried steer. And at 13, he got on his first big bull. He remembers being “a little nervous.”
Today, the 25-year-old North Carolina native is one of the stars of the Professional Bull Riders, making headlines for big rides, big earnings and big personality. At the 2009 PBR World Finals, Mauney made history as the first rider ever to hit the 8-second whistle on all eight bulls. When one crushed his left hand this spring, the gripping hand he’s always relied on, he switched to the right and took some hard licks just to stay in the action. As his dad always told him: You play the game, you take the pain.
Mauney comes to Vegas this year ranked fifth overall in the Built Ford Tough Series that feeds into the World Finals. Like his fellow cowboys, his profile on the PBR website posts injury reports that tell you whether a rider is competing anyway or whether he's probable, questionable or out of commission. Mauney’s 28 reports (so far) include separated shoulder, broken foot, sprained elbow, concussion with loss of consciousness, bruised ulnar nerve with loss of feeling—and these are just a few from the “competing” category. A collapsed lung that required surgery managed to sideline him, though the worst happened when he was just 18. A bull’s back feet came down on him with full force, breaking all the ribs on his right side, lacerating his liver and bruising his spleen, but he waited a day to go to the hospital because some friends were giving him grief.
A week before competition, Mauney shared his thoughts on the rough days, the tough credo and why he picks the rankest bulls whenever he has the chance.
On the short, painful career of a bull rider You make it to 30 you’ve done pretty good. I’ve seen guys ride till they’re 38, but that’s very uncommon. Most people, 30, 32, that’s about when you start down the backstretch of it. After beatin’ your body for so long, it can only handle so much.
On dealing with the beatings It’s a lot to do with your mind. If I can’t put the pain out of my head for 8 seconds to ride my bull then I don’t need to be ridin’ bulls at all. But I was raised that way. My parents, they weren’t hard on me, but they were tough. If I was gonna do it, I had to be tough about it. You don’t lay in the arena. It don’t matter how bad you’re hurt, if you can get up you better get up and walk out of that arena. Then you lay down out back and you can cry or whatever you want to do. It was always, if you lay out there, both your legs better be broken and you better be tryin’ to crawl away.
On doctor’s orders It’s like pullin’ teeth out of my head to even get me to go to the doctor. … Tandy Freeman, [medical director of the PBR Sports Medicine Program], he’s not like a normal doctor. He’s been around bull ridin’ for a real long time, so he knows that if we don’t ride we don’t have the chance of makin’ any money. So he’s pretty lenient. He has the right to say, “You can’t get on now.” Used to be he didn’t have that. There was only one person that could make that call, and that was yourself.
On helmets vs. hats When I started gettin’ on steers my mom said, “It’s either you wear a helmet or you don’t ride.” I didn’t like it at all. I told her when I turned 18 that thing was goin’ in the garbage can. … But I got hit in the face one night when I wasn’t wearin’ it. … I figured then, yeah, I better.
On his dream bull at the World Finals Bushwacker. In the past two years I’ve been on him eight times, and I’ve rode him 7.2, 7.3, right to the whistle a couple different times. The last time I got on him I about knocked my head off.
On what he thinks about during an out As long as them bulls are buckin’ hard enough to where I can’t think, and it’s all reaction, I can ride great. But if I got time to think on one, I get to thinkin’ too much—I need to do this, I need to do that—I’ll throw my own self off. … A lot of people have said, “Man, you ride them rank bulls way easier than you ride just good bulls.” And it’s because I get lazy. I get to thinkin’ because I have the time to. A bull like Asteroid or Bushwacker, they’re doin’ so much in 8 seconds that if you think you’re layin’ on the ground.
On picking the baddest bulls There’s been a few times I’ve got in over my head. But that’s how I’ll always be. I’ll pick the one I think nobody wants, like pickin’ Asteroid. They leave that bull at the bottom every time because they don’t think they can ride him. If there’s a bull there that I think I can’t ride, I’m gonna pick my sh*t up and go home and quit ridin’ bulls. I do that kind of stuff because there’s a lot of guys that just want to get four 85-point bull rides in one weekend and try to win the event. And the way I look at it is, who remembers an 85-point bull ride? Nobody. If you’re 93 or 94 points, everybody’s gonna remember that. They ask me, “Are you gonna change your way of pickin’ bulls?” Hell no I’m not. I’m gonna go at it the same way I always have; I’m gonna try to win. It’s kinda like pick your own poison.
On fear The first time I got on a bull I was a little nervous. You know this could be your last time ridin’. … They step on you the right way they kill you, they paralyze you, I mean, anything can happen. But you’re willing to chance that to get to do what you love doin’. I don’t get scared. They can hurt you, but that’s just all part of it. You learn that when you first start ridin’, that gettin’ hurt’s gonna happen; there’s no way around it. … There is one fear I do have. Losing. I hate it. People see me get mad in the arena. I’ve thrown stuff before and got pissed off, kicked the chutes, hit the chutes. A lot of people say, “You shouldn’t do that.” … I always tell ’em to take $40,000 of their money and put it on the roulette wheel on black or red and lose it and tell me they’re not gonna be mad. ... There’s good money in it, but it’s not guaranteed. That’s why you see guys that ride bulls that ride hurt all the time, and they ride with broken legs and they come back off of injuries early. We don’t have contracts. We don’t have anybody payin’ us just to sit at home on the injured list.
On love for the sport I always say it gets in your blood. There’s no stoppin’ it. Once I started it was what I was gonna do the rest of my life. ... A lot of people ask me, “What are you gonna do when you can’t get out of bed in the morning?” And I say, “I guess I’ll lay there and think about all the good times I had.”