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Once a sheep rider, now a 'cowboy'

Either Steve Foster forgot to play the song or his son, Taylor, ignored it because he's growing up to be a "Cowboy."

After graduation this spring, the 18 year old headed to Korkow Ranch Rodeo School at Pierre, SD and won the bullfighting championship.

"It was beginner's luck, I guess," Taylor said, grinning.

In high school in Omaha, he played football and basketball and competed in track and boxing. Once he competed in a mixed martial arts event as well. But since he was 5 or 6, he has loved the rodeo arena - the one in Park Rapids where he got his start riding sheep.

His family spends time at their cabin on Portage Lake and dad Steve is a friend of Randy and Denese Jokela, producers of the Professional Bull Ride (PBR) in Park Rapids.

Steve occasionally volunteered his help at the event when he could be here over the 4th of July and entered his kids in the sheep riding.

Taylor said he remembers his older sister beat him one year "and that just wasn't acceptable."

When he grew too old to enter the amateur event, Taylor hung out with his dad and watched the professional bull riders and bullfighters.

"Agility and courage is what you need," Taylor decided. "I thought I would give it a try."

So he signed up for bullfighting school. The Korkow School accepts anyone who wants to learn about bullfighting and bull riding, Taylor explains. Veterans come to sharpen their skills and kids come, too.

During the three intense days, Taylor said, it snowed the first day and rained the second. "The third day was gorgeous," Taylor said.

"The first bull out flipped me over the fence so I got right back in," Taylor said, "and that got me respect from my instructor."

"Unfortunately, he said, 'Bring it on,'" Steve added.

Bullfighters don't wear helmets - even in school - but do wear a chest protector, hockey girdle and shin guards.

"I was pretty beat up and sore," Taylor admits.

A few bumps and bruises didn't deter his enthusiasm, however. The Jokelas invited him to join in an act with the two professional bullfighters contracted for the Red River Valley Fair Professional Bull Ride the Jokelas produced in Fargo June 17-18. Taylor performed in a teeter-totter act with a mean Mexican bull charging at them. "It was a crowd pleaser," Taylor said.

Through connections with the Jokelas and the school, Taylor is booked for two bullfighting events in South Dakota this summer. "I definitely want to pursue it for the next couple of years if my body allows," Taylor said.

He plans to stay healthy though since he's going to college at Wayne State University in Nebraska and compete in pole-vaulting.

"He was a city kid never exposed to rodeo at all, but coming to the PBR in Park Rapids was the highlight of the summer," Steve said. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Steve said they bought their place on Portage in 1958 and have spent summers here since. When he was a kid himself, Steve remembers helping Randy at auctions a couple of times, holding items up for Eddie Jokela to sell.

Years later, when Randy started putting on rodeos and then PBR events, Steve volunteered to help out and Taylor hung out with him. "The bull riders patted him on the head," and made him feel welcome, Steve recalls.

So it was natural to enter his kids in the sheep riding. "It's fun to see your kids do that stuff."

Now the Foster children are grown, daughter Autumn lives in Florida and Heidi in Omaha.

'They grew up here, too," Steve says. "We have good memories and I'm looking forward to passing them on to my grandkids."

Randy said Taylor isn't the only kid sheep rider- turned-cowboy he knows.

Tory Meech rode sheep in rodeo events here years back and went on to become a top bull rider in the professional circuit for years.

Today, Meech has more than 200 head of bucking bulls he contracts to rodeo organizers. A few of them will be in the chutes here July 3-5.

So if you're not afraid your kids might grow up to be cowboys, it's not too late to sign them up for next week's events. Kids ages 5-7 have their chance for eight seconds of fame - or longer - on a sheep in the popular amateur event. Call 732-5587 to enter.