Confidence builder | Inexperienced bull riders gain skills on miniature bulls before moving up to bigger animals
SWANSON, Sask. — Going small has been a going concern for Mickey and Shelley Ireland.
For more than eight years, the husband and wife team have contracted their miniature bucking bulls at rodeo events throughout Western Canada.
Their goal is to help fill what they see as a growing void at amateur rodeos: smaller bulls for young bull riders build their skills and confidence.
The Irelands say too often many junior riders’ only choice has been the much heavier, more powerful bred-to-buck rank bulls.
“It’s getting on the stock to suit the rider, not just running whatever’s in the chute underneath him and lets hope this kid makes out good,” said Shelley.
At the Stormy Acre Ranch Mini Cattle Co. near Swanson, they carefully breed miniature bucking stock that now number 125 animals. They also have a herd of miniature commercial cattle along with regular commercial cattle and bucking stock.
As well, Mickey operates his own commercial truck hauling business and Shelley drives school bus in Delisle. Their children are Levi, 25, Lindsey, 22, Santana, 21, Shayanne, 20, Cassidy, 6 and Brody, 4.
The couple’s main concern is trying to match the rider’s level of experience to the quality of bull so that young riders want to continue to perform another day, even after being bucked off.
“If they don’t learn from the start to ride properly on the smaller stuff that is the weaker calibre, then we’re Xing all these kids out. Your bull riders are going to diminish immensely,” said Shelley.
Added Mickey: “You don’t want to take it out of these guys (bull riders), and this is what’s happening. There’s no control at that end. They’re (contractors) throwing them on what they shouldn’t be getting on.”
Mickey said there’s a growing awareness in the industry about the lack of up-and-coming riders to take on the high quality bulls. Like other sports, advancing as a bull rider to tougher stock needs to be gradual.
“The stock is providing the stepping stone to the next level,” he said.
Mickey should know, having spent many years riding bulls in the United States and Canada with the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. He said there were many years when he competed in more than 100 rodeos a year before retiring at 40.
“I wanted to go until I was 50, that was my goal. Didn’t quite make it. Part of it was the body. I was tired of being sore. I went 25 years of being sore,” he said.
The Irelands met at rodeos in Alberta and Saskatchewan as teenagers. Mickey rode steers while Shelley barrel raced.
Her grandfather, Richard Smith, entertained for many years as a rodeo clown, while her father, Corey Smith of High Five Rodeo, managed stock.
“She was the contractor’s daughter,” Mickey said. “Rodeos back then used to be a family thing. We rode every weekend.”
Added Shelley: “That’s all we’ve ever known.”
Mickey saw his first miniature bull at a PBR rodeo in Billings, Montana, in 2003
“When I saw that, I thought that was just the coolest thing. There were about half a dozen kids that came out and got on these things during intermission. The crowd loved it,” he said.
“The original thought in my mind was: ‘man, if I could have had these when I was young.’ ”
Building skills and self-confidence for the next generation of bull riders comes with its own rewards. The Irelands were recently contracted by Cliff Willick for a Kakeyow Cowboys Rodeo Association event in Martensville, Sask. They took 24 miniature bulls.
“We had one fellow this weekend. He got bucked off twice and he come to me afterwards and said, ‘even though I got bucked off, that was the best feeling in the world because I was getting on stuff that I know I should be able to ride,’ ” said Shelley.
“Another parent came up to me. Their son actually rides CCA (Canadian Cowboy Association). He has been getting thrown off. He hasn’t made the (eight second) whistle and they came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘thank you, that was his confidence builder.’ That’s the satisfaction of it for us. It’s not about the money. It’s seeing the positive feedback that you get from those kids and those parents.”