By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
The first step to riding a bull is to be brave, says rodeo veteran Caynyon Jolly. You have to know that injury in this sport is not a question, but a certainty, “then you have to make yourself get on anyway.”
Just last month his wrist broke in two places after he leaped off and hit the ground at an angle. He got back up, dusted himself off, and mounted another one.
His brother and rodeo partner, Claydyn Jolly, has the same outlook. “If I’m not knocked out, even if I got something broke, I get up and get to the fence,” he says.
In recent weeks, the brothers competed in a national best-of tournament in Colorado. Then Caynyon turned 13.
Caynyon and Claydyn, who is 9, have competed in youth rodeo tournaments since each was 3 years old— when their father first told them to get on the back of a sheep, squeeze their legs, and follow it wherever it took them.
Now Claydyn rides calves, and Caynyon rides mini-bulls, a variety bred to be smaller.
Together the brothers ride for wins, for thrills, and for tournament prize buckles.
“When you’re up there on top with the rope, the main thing you feel is that adrenaline,” Caynyon says. “Your heart’s pumping—it’s like your first time base jumping or skydiving—but once you do it, you dust yourself off and say, ‘I want to do that again.’”
Standing outside a barn in Indian Mound Ranch, where the two boys often practice riding, they watch their horses (Lemon and Junior) graze while they struggle to describe how one “just gets on” an angry animal.
Caynyon says the two have done it so long, “it’s just second nature now. I don’t even think about it.”
Having the right equipment, they say, is the only thing more important than having courage.
“You can’t just go in there with a bull rope and some boots and expect to ride a bull,” Caynyon says. He pauses, “well, you could— but it wouldn’t go very well.”
A protective vest is essential. “It’s not a bull-proof vest,” Caynyon says, but “it could stop a bullet if it had to,” Claydyn adds.
Riders are required to wear helmets under most youth rodeo rules until they turn 18, when they then have a choice between the helmet and a cowboy hat. Chaps are also an option, which Caynyon has eagerly taken.
The next step is to actually mount the bull.
Go slowly at first, Caynyon recommends. Make a bend at the knees and let them slide over the animal’s back before settling both feet on either side. Avoid letting the spurs poke in at this point, “that’ll make him go crazy.”
Once on top, the rest is simple. Grab a tight hold on the bull rope and don’t fall off until the whistle blows— no matter how much the animal bucks, spins, and sprints.
Last month was the first time Claydyn experienced a calf trying (unsuccessfully) to throw him off with a spin, rather than running straight forward. To the audience, it creates a classic rodeo image. To a young rider like Claydyn, it’s like holding onto a playground roundabout.
It might soon be more common for him. Last week at the American Youth Bullriding Finals in Colorado will probably be the last time he rides calves, his mother Laci Chaney says. At the start of the year, he will ride his first steer.
The two boys have experienced many childhood “firsts” through life on the road.
Chaney says Colorado was also the first time they saw “real” snow, “not just that Texas sleet.” Las Vegas next month, when they’ll stay at a hotel on an American Indian reservation, will be the boys’ first time flying.
She says the family tries to make the best of every big city and tiny crossroads they end up in. Golf, bowling, movies and all manner of local flavor are always on the itinerary.
“We spend a lot of time on the road,” Chaney says, “it’s hard to take a vacation when this stuff is year round.”
The boys practice all the time, says their neighbor and landlord Susan Anderson.
“When those boys aren’t in school, they’re watching horse riding videos, they’re using the bucking barrel in their yard,” she said.
The brothers might soon be split apart for a period by age brackets, until both re-unite in the 17+ category, but until then, they enjoy a friendly sibling rivalry. Both finished in the top 10 at the Youth Bull Riding World Finals held in Abilene this summer.
“It’s very rare that one goes without the other,” their mother says.
Both also say that they want to be professional rodeo stars when they grow up.
“Football,” they say in unison. Caynyon says rodeo is already like football, “just with more danger.”
Again, injury, sometimes serious, is inevitable. Like any sport you will get better, he says, but the pain never hurts any less. It is what makes you get better.
“If you ain’t scared, then you ain’t really a bull rider,” he says.