Real Western > Rodeo > Japanese Rodeo Cowboys > Jin'ichiro Shibahara

Chasing The Dream

Written by Jin'ichiro Shibahara

November 11, 2007 - Brawley, CA: 0.9

How long is 0.9 seconds?  Or should I be asking, how “short” is 0.9 seconds?

I headed West on I-10, catching a little sleep at a rest area on the way.  All they had at this particular rest stop was a restroom, a few vending machines, a table a bench.  That’s it.  It was meant to be a place where you could rest a bit, and it had nothing more than what you would need to do just that.  A few other long distance travelers and truck drivers had parked their vehicles and were getting some rest as well.  Was it a safe place?  No.  But it sufficed for sleeping.

There was a Starbucks in the supermarket of the first town I came to in California, so I gave their “Christmas Blend” a try.  It was thick, bitter, and perfect for those mornings where you need a real kick to wake up.  Southwest through the sand dunes I drove, almost to Mexico, to the border town of Brawley.  The rodeo kicked off at one.  My watch said 12, but because of the time difference between California and Arizona, it was only 11 o’clock.  With time to kill, I decided to snap a few pictures.

I already knew I would be riding #32 Cimarron of Rosser Rodeo Co.  Rosser is an affiliate of the great Californian stock contracting firm, Flying U Rodeo Company, and I have a lot of friends at the companies.  I proceeded with shaking hands of familiar faces and checking in with the rodeo secretary to pay my entry.  As I was getting ready, I looked around and noticed even more familiar faces.  Faces I was very familiar with too.  Like, Louie Jones.  There’s no bullfighter I trust more than Louie, and his parents have been the ones taking care of me at their house in Utah for the last five years.  I hadn’t seen Louie since coming back this time, and even though I had spoken to him on the phone before leaving Utah, he hadn’t told me he would be here.  Regardless, I walked over and gave him a hug, six months in the waiting.  He looked like he was doing well.  As I looked around, I noticed that the guy helping him separate the horses and bulls in the back was a guy named Tim who he teams up with a lot.  They were both at the rodeo in Springville this year also.  Since they are both bullfighters on contract with the Flying U, I guess it’s no surprise they would be here.  One of the members of the rodeo’s committee seemed to remember me from a rodeo in Costa Mesa (California) six years ago.  To be honest, I don’t remember Costa Mesa, but since I had been working at the Flying U that summer, I may very well have rode in that show.  I looked around some more and was surprised yet again; the announcer for this particular rodeo was Randy Corley who is scheduled to announce this year’s National Finals Rodeo.

Heading back behind the chutes, I run through my initial preparations and wasted some time.  Bull riding is always last, so I had some time.  Local cowgirls in their fancy outfits rode around the arena in the Grand Opening, kicking off the show, and a long wait for me.  This rodeo featured not only the standard events but also a wild horse race, mutton busting as well as attractions such as trick roping and trick riding.  I looked around to see many of the other bull riders were just about worn out from waiting as I was.  I had already wormed up, so I concentrated on staying relaxed, and waited for the time to pass by.  Once the barrel racing started the bulls were loaded up into the chutes.  Cimarron got loaded into a right-side delivery and last.  I gave a guy named Shawn who was also in Gilbert the day before a hand with his rope as he got down on to his bull and ready to ride.  13 riders had entered this show, but over the course of the day and nigh show the day before, only 3 had managed to make 8 second rides.  The bulls they loaded up this day were of no less caliber then the day before, and they threw off riders left and right.  Only two guys managed to get a score, but they were both in the low 70s.

The rider that went before me got his face smashed by the bull’s head, and I could tell he was knocked out the moment they made contact.  Now unconscious, the bull mercilessly swung him around before he was thrown into the air, landing on his head.  He didn’t even budge.  Not a half second later Louie had run over to the rider and had laid over him to shield the rider from the bull with his own body.  Tim was working hard to get the bull’s attention, but by now all the bull could see was the hapless bull rider and the bullfighter on top of him.  As the bull charged forward and began nudging the two with his head, Louie commenced to kicking the bull with both feet to try and protect the fallen rider.  Tim forced his way in between, and by pushing the bull’s face away with his hands, was able to get the bull to change direction and away from the two on the ground.  With the bull finally out of the arena, paramedics rushed in, but the rider still hadn’t moved.  Louie stayed by and began calling to the rider.  It must have been five minutes or more; the crowd was silent as they watched for any sign of life.  The announcer is gently soothing the crowd as they all wait.  Finally, the rider awakes and stands; helped on both sides, he walked out of the area to a thundering applause from the crowd.  As the rider departed, Randy began praising the bullfighters, and the crowd paid them off with another thundering applause.  What I witnessed was the epitome of what is Louie Jones; but asked him about it and he’ll just brush it off with a simple “I just did what needed doing.”  The reason Louie and Tim work so well together is because each knows what the other is going to do.  “Chemistry” is a word best suited for relations such as this, and the title “Bullfighter” is best suited for men such as these two.

Finally, it was my turn.  The crowd was pumped.  They had just witnessed exactly what bull riding can be like; nothing could have excited them more.  Cimarron was a bit thinner than Captain Kirk I had ridden the day before.  He was tall, but skinny and had a long torso.  My hand in the rope was pressed against his exposed spine, so I moved my hand a little further forward than usual.  Tim and Shawn gave me a hand getting set.  Louie kept shouting, “Remember to keep your chin down!” over and over.  Just before I left, Randy notified the crowd that I was Japanese; the crowd went even wilder.

Out I went.  I had asked a guy to film this ride too, but I found out later that the memory filled up while I was putting my rope on, and he was unable to film the ride.  Cimarron had his head turned right, so I was leaving the chute in the opposite direction from the day before.  Exploding out of the chute, he immediately changed directions; having come straight out, he made a 90 degree turn to the right.  Bull riders call this “cornering.”  The sharper the corner, the more Gs the rider is subjected too, and the easier it is for him to be launched off the bull’s back.  This bull kicked high too, but I managed to keep my seat.  I could tell I was keeping my body perpendicular to his and in proper position.  After cornering, he continued into a right-hand spin; he was quickly mirroring the movements of the bull I had ridden just a day prior.  He spun to the right, and to the right again, and I began to get in rhythm.  Driving my right spur into his body and locking it in, I began spurring with my left.  I am wiping my hand as I should, and this time I able to keep my arm from going back past my shoulder.  He’s still going right as I tightened my left arm against my side.  That’s when he started changing up his pattern.  He stopped kicking as high, and started floating his long body a bit before landing, lengthening out the distance of his jumps.  This screwed up my rhythm, and with him now whipping his body around, I was subjected to even more Gs then before.  I began to slip back out of my seat and my right foot came out.  I could tell it was because I let my right arm go back too far.  I could now feel my right buttocks come off the bull’s back.  Determined not to fall off, I grip my rope even tighter, and hang on as best I can, even though by this point I am halfway sideways on the bull.  Yet, the buzzer doesn’t sound.  Were those cheers I was hearing?  Or were they screams?  Cimarron gives one last powerful swing of his body, and I was airborne, flying a good 10 feet before landing – there’s the buzzer.  Well…did I…?

As I got to my feet, I could see Cimarron standing some distance away.  I also saw the yellow flag laying there on the ground…  In a disappointed voice, Randy tells the crowd I didn’t make the whistle as I looked to the heavens and screamed.  Louie, who had been standing next to me, reached over and gave me a hug.  “You made a great ride Jean!!” He said, then putting his index finger and thumb out, with the index finger held just off his thumb, he added, “That much close.”  Tim brought me my rope that was lying on the ground, gave me a high five and said, “That was a great ride man!!”  Even so, I was overcome with an indescribable frustration.

When I got back behind the chutes I saw the bull rider that had gotten knocked out there icing his head.  “You alright?” I asked, to which he replied “My head hurts a bit.”  Yeah, I would suppose it would.  I was relieved to see him conscious anyway.  I hung my rope on the fence, thanked Shawn, and also Thanked Reno from the Flying U who had brought Cimarron here, then walked around a bit, trying to calm myself down.  I took my chaps and vest off and walked to the rodeo office.  I asked to see the score sheet, and there the judge had written, “7.1 seconds.”  I was just 0.9 seconds short.

If I had just held on to my rope for 0.9 seconds more…

The winner of the rodeo won with a score in the upper 70s.  My bull had scored a 39, so had I stayed on another 0.9 seconds, my score would surely have been higher than the upper 70s.  But the moment my left hand came away from my rope, I had let the prize money and victory from my grasp as well.  That’s bull riding.

But my 7.1 second ride was not without its gains.


When I was walking back to the chutes from the arena, one of the cowboys that competed in the wild horse race opened the gate for me, and as I walked through, he high-fived me and said, “You’re the champ man.”

Hearing the crowd let out a roar of boos in discontent to the announcement that I was disqualified.

The people who searched me out amongst the many other riders in the parking lot, just to cast warm words upon me.

Louie’s wife finding me and hugging me tightly and saying “I’m so proud of you.  That was so close!!”

All the riders from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California who had ridden with me in Gilbert saying things like “You ride bulls like that, you’ll be alright.  You’ll win.”

And then of course, there is myself; if asked if I had done my best, if I had given everything I could, I could answer unequivocally, “YES.”

Some of the riders had asked me what my plans were, but having none and telling them so, they encouraged me to ride with them in Denver; “Come to Denver” one would say, then another would add, “Yeah, see you in Denver, man.”

Denver.  Home of the “Colorado Rockies” baseball team who competed in this year’s World Series.  Since Kazuo Matsui plays for them, I am sure many Japanese have heard of the city.  Denver also hosts a PRCA rodeo in January; a “HUGE” rodeo.  Known as the “National Western Stock Show and Rodeo” it provides a good number of entry slots, pays well if you win, and entry fees are expensive.  This year’s world champions and top ranking cowboys will have priority in entering, but the event reserves a few slots for permit holders as well.  Many a cowboy kicks off his new rodeo season with this event, which follows directly after the Christmas holidays.  And the best stock in the PRCA show up there too.  Once one of the cowboys mentioned Denver, that became the only thing I could think about.  I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about entering Denver, but the cowboy’s invites stroked the flame of my desire to ride there.  Riding in Denver was all I could think about the entire ride back to Utah.  But Denver was still a while off, and there weren’t any rodeos for me to enter in December.  I picked up the latest edition of ProRorde Sports News and took a look.  Come January, buck outs will start in a place about an hour by car from here.  But I don’t think I can wait that long; I need to ride some bulls.  Maybe I’ll enter a PBR event in December…  I’ve got the PBR schedule on hand and I’m looking at that too.  There’s an event in Indiana in January near where my friend lives, and in mid-February there’s one at an arena not 15 minutes from here – that’s one I defiantly want to enter…  I feel like a woman in a shopping mall.  The multiple “…” indicate I’m yet undecided.  No wait, maybe I’m just excited…  I’ll have to think about that…

What I can say is that, through these two events, I have reconfirmed that “This is where I belong.”  I covered 1800 miles in four days.  World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Dan Mortenson was once asked in an interview what he thought was the main reason he was able to become the world champion, to which he replied with a laugh, “I traveled tens of thousands of miles.”  He wasn’t entirely kidding.  I wonder if I am the only one who feels that a rodeo cowboy’s life is just plain fun.

Jin’ichiro Shibahara

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