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Next generation of Johnson County bull riders are stepping up

L-R Bullriders Loki Osborne, 15, of Butler, TN, and Joe Joe Church, 14, of Mountain City, before their rides at the Bulls and Barrels Rodeo on Saturday night. 
Photo by Dan Cullinane

 

By Dan Cullinane

Freelance Writer

 

Wes and John Stalans brought the Spur N S Rodeo monster bulls back to Johnson County for two nail-biting nights of Bulls and Barrels on Friday and Saturday. Featuring the fan-favorite events of bull riding and barrel racing, along with some spectacular trick riding and raucous comedy, it was the action-packed night that Mountain City resident Pauleen Kidd attended with her two sons and her granddaughter, was hoping for. “It’s a good time Saturday night,” she said.

Back behind the bucking chutes, I ran into Van Arnold of Mountain City, who used to ride bulls back when Wes and John’s Dad ran Spur N S. These days, he’s more on the organizing front for the annual rodeo at Chamber Park, and as I had just had a conversation with two young cowboys from Johnson County who were riding tonight, and I wanted to ask Van how he felt about the tradition he had been a part of being picked up by these guys. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “It gives them something to do, something to strive for.”

Loki Osborne, 15, from Butler, has been riding since he was 12 and has actually made the regulation 8 seconds on the back of a bull. Joe Joe Church of Mountain City just started riding last year, so this will be his 6th-time bull riding, and he’s hopeful he can make the buzzer. “There’s always a chance,” he says.

Both cowboys say it’s the fun and the adrenaline that draws them to the sport and keeps them coming back. Joe Joe’s mom, Jenny Baumgardner, thinks it’s a natural extension of his love of athletics, but that doesn’t mean she’s crazy about it, standing outside the arena, “praying before, during, and after.” I asked her what she thought, and she said, “I thought he’d lost his mind, but he loves it. Every year he says, ‘Mom, I’ve got to ride.’”

No one seems to be able to put their finger on exactly what makes trying for that magic 8 seconds so compelling. It does seem to be a calling. Van Arnold recalls when he was younger that he just wanted to be a cowboy, but now he can see that the cowboy’s whole legend drew him and others to this most American, Western sport. “That wild west cowboy dream never goes away, he said.

He’s out there, free on the range, taking risks. “That’s what we Americans do, take the risk. That’s why it’s an American sport, and hopefully, we’re preserving a part of America with it.” As the evening grows cooler and the sky turns to orange and deep blue, both Loki and Joe Joe ride and then ride some more. Neither makes the full 8 seconds, but neither of them is upset
about it. They got their ride, and that’s what it’s all about, and according to Loki, being able to take what comes is a part of the game. He laughs as he says, “If you’re gonna be this dumb, you gotta be tough.”