‘Like a bomb going off’

What it’s actually like to ride a ton of angry beef

Illustration by Rick Sealock

“On average a bull weighs 1,800 or 1,900 pounds. They can get on up to about 2,300 pounds. They are capable of killing, and there have been more than a handful of guys that have been killed riding bulls.” Kolt Donaldson recites this information the way a flight attendant points out exits. Yes, there are exits over the wings. Yes, you can die riding a bull. “I don’t ever get scared,” Donaldson says. “I believe the most dangerous thing about riding bulls is just traveling to the bull riding. You’re more likely to be hurt in a car wreck than on your bull.”

The Details

2008 PBR World Finals
October 31-November 9
$30-$85 per session
Thomas and Mack Center
From the Archives
Here's the beef! (12/11/03)
Is two-time PBR champ (and UNLV student) McBride ready to call it quits? (10/21/08)
Beyond the Weekly
2008 PBR World Finals

At just 20 years old, the professional bull rider is ranked among the top 45 in the world and will be competing in the PBR World Finals, which begins at the Thomas & Mack Center on October 31. Donaldson has ridden with cracked ribs, a broken nose, caved-in nasal cavities and plenty of bruises. The injuries are part of his work, but calling bull riding his job makes it sound like he had a choice.

“I started riding calves when I was five,” remembers Donaldson, who comes from a family of bull, saddle bronc and bareback riders. “All I ever wanted to be when I was growing up was a bull rider. It’s about the only thing my family’s ever done.”

Currently in his first year as a professional rider, the Idabel, Oklahoma, native is a candidate for Rookie of the Year, an award that goes to the newcomer who wins the most money throughout the year. To Donaldson, sitting on top of a quivering mass of angry beef isn’t crazy—it’s the most extreme sport in the world.

“It’s almost like there’s a bomb going off underneath you every time they open the gate. … You have 100 emotions running through you at one time, and your brain is being pulled in 20 different directions, and the adrenaline just gets running through your body. Your heart is definitely always racing, so you get to breathing a little bit faster. Don’t really get shaky, but your senses are a little more keen than they usually are, and all your attention is focused on one thing. Nothing in the world compares to that.”

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