The Hanover Ag Fair’s trying something different this year by replacing the rodeo with the largest bullriding competition in Manitoba.
Wayne LeMay, chair of the fair committee, said they’re running the highest-paid event in the province with a purse of $15,000.
LeMay said their goal is to incentivize pro bullriders into coming to Hanover Ag, including the current top Bull Riders Canada contestant, Marcos Gloria.
But that’s not to say there won’t be any local bullriders at the event.
Seasoned bullrider Josh Kerda, who lives in Ridgeville, is also coming out to Hanover Ag.
Most days, Kerda makes bacon at Maple Leaf Foods. On the side, he hops onto a roiling, twisting bull and does his best not to get hurt.
Kerda said he’s been bullriding since his college days. To date, Kerda’s been with Bull Riders Canada for 12 years, travelling across Canada from rodeo to rodeo.
The concept of bullriding is relatively simple, in theory.
The rider grips a braided rope which wraps around the bull’s chest just behind the front legs, and loops around its rear.
Naturally, the bull doesn’t enjoy this rope.
"The bull will try to kick out its back feet to get off whatever’s wrapped around it," Kerda said.
Without the rope, Kerda said the bulls are actually pretty tame. Most riders will meet up with their bull beforehand to pet and get acquainted with it.
But the second the chute opens and the bull enters the arena, it’ll do anything in its power to shake off the rider.
Riders try to stay on for a solid eight seconds.
In pro bullriding, they can only use one hand to stay on. If the other hand touches any part of the bull, the rider is disqualified.
"It really upsets the rider when that happens," said Kerda.
Further complicating the sport is all bulls have their own way of trying to throw off the rider.
"You’re looking for the way they buck," Kerda explained.
The higher they launch, the more severe they angle the rider. The more the bull turns, the more g-force there is to deal with.
If you’re thinking that sounds incredibly dangerous and painful—it is.
Kerda said it’s pretty common for bullriders to get "medicaled out."
"If you have to take two (competitions) off to heal, it’s better than knocking yourself out of the league," he said.
Kerda should know, after more than 70 bone breaks. The last bad fall he had landed him three broken bones, a shattered collarbone and a torn ACL.
"Roughriders use more hockey tape than hockey players do," he said.
According to Kerda, bullriding is a young man’s game. And after his last injuries, the 35-year-old expects this season to be his last.
But at the end of the day, although Kerda hasn’t reached the top standings since his latest injuries, he said he’s just content to get the chance to hang onto professional-level bulls.
The best advice Kerda said he’s heard was from a pro bullrider giving a new recruit a good dose of reality:
"’If you’re not willing to get hurt, you may as well take on an easier sport — like knitting,’" Kerda recalled.
If you want to see bullriding in action, the Hanover Ag Fair’s bullriding competition will run Thursday, Aug. 15 and Friday, Aug 16. For more details, visit hanoverag.com.