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Bull riders hang on for dear life in thrilling show

A rider practices his skills last week at the Meech Bucking Bulls ranch outside of Nimrod. Riders and bulls put their abilities to the test, hanging on for eight seconds. Bulls practice what they do best. (Photos by Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Randy Jokela, at left, and Troy Meech compare buckles they were awarded from the National Federation of Professional Bullriders. They recently won two national awards for a bull riding event they put on last summer at the Red River Valley Fair in Fargo.2 / 2

Eight seconds. To a crowd of spectators it's an adrenalin thrill that's over too soon. To a bull rider, it's a lifetime.

Professional bull riding is, besides NASCAR events, the hottest growing sport in the country.

It has become a lucrative volition for promoters, riders and stock producers.

All three live right here in the Hubbard - Wadena County region, steadily growing a bucking empire. Actually the bull riders have climbed down off the saddle. They're now mostly training, producing and promoting the event to a nationwide audience that grows by leaps and bounds among both men and women.

The "farm club" of professional bull riders recently bestowed two national awards to Jokela ProWest and Meech Bucking Bulls in their joint efforts at the Red River Valley Fair last summer.

Randy and Denese Jokela have teamed up with Troy Meech to showcase rollicking events for both the Professional Bull Riders and the National Federation of Professional Bullriders. It's the NFPB, as it's called, that honored the three amigos last month.

"We didn't even go," said Randy, speaking of the awards ceremony in Missouri. "We didn't think we'd win anything."

Win, they did, for best new event and event of the year. The NFPB lauded them for featuring bulls that guaranteed thrills and spills across the board.

That's not an easy guarantee, both in selecting bucking animals for show time and breeding them.

What event promoters want is a large stable of bulls that all buck when a rider climbs aboard them in the chute.

"In the past, there would only be a few feisty bulls at an event and then it was the luck of the draw," Denese said. "You could only win if you drew the right bull."

Because bull riders derive half their points from the bull's performance and half from their own, promoters went far and wide to obtain bulls that would all buck every rider, every time. It evened out the disparity of drawing the bull with steam pouring out of his nostrils.

That's why the Meech-Jokela partnership is so important.

Jokelas said last summer they used about 10-12 of Meech's bulls for the July 4th event in Park Rapids, a PBR extravaganza that will also occur this 4th of July. "For the three-day ride we used 120 bulls," Randy said. "We had to import them from all over."

And that adds immeasurably to the cost of an event. Because the professional associations don't let promoters use the same bulls more than one day, Jokelas brought bulls in from Mandan, Montana, Colorado and other states. Getting them from Meech's Nimrod ranch cuts down on the transportation costs.

Then there's the issue of boarding them during an event. Bulls not used to commingling can't be boarded together, so local accommodations had to be located.

"They'll fight like hell" if they bunk together, Randy said. Meech's bulls can go home after they've done their thing.

The July 4th PBR event, and nighttime dances, attracted 26,000 people to Park Rapids last summer, so the Jokelas feel it was well worth the expense.

Meech currently has around 200 head of bulls. They aren't show-ready until about age 4, and not all develop the ornery criteria necessary for a thrilling public event. Breeding bucking bulls can be an expensive enterprise, Meech said. He only makes money when they're in use, so he, too, trucks semi loads of them all over the country to various bull riding events.

The worst thing a bull stock breeder can have is a herd of 2,000-pound animals standing out in a field eating, not earning their keep, he maintains.

But a good bull is worth anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000. One famous Mandan, North Dakota bull called Yellow Jacket is worth $100,000. His legendary rodeo days are over but he still earns a hefty living doing promotional events. Meech's bulls have been featured on nationally televised rodeos so he's steadily gaining a track record.

Troy and Randy have long since retired from the bull-riding arena. It's a young man's sport, they say. Both retirees gimp a bit, as though years of falling off gutsy animals has taken a toll. But their stiff joints mask a spunky intestinal fortitude.

Neither is content to rest on his laurels. Jokelas have been in the rodeo business since 1978, promoting events in seven different locations in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Meech started out as a sheep rider in Jokela rodeos, then transitioned to calf riding, then to bulls. He used his skills riding to select the best traits in bucking bulls.

The awards they received praised them for having gritty, hot-blooded animals available for bull riders of all experience levels.

And if the three amigos have their way, Meech will breed a herd of Yellow Jackets, massive, frisky animals that will give bull riders - and spectators - the thrill of a lifetime.