Counting on holding on tight
By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published April 23, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Josh Cragar, 20 years old, 147 pounds wet, came to Hernando County Saturday night from Columbia, Tenn., by way of Union Point, Ga., to ride bareback a bucking quarter horse for eight long seconds - if he was good, or lucky, or both.
Back behind the hard, metal chutes, he put on his boots and double-knotted the leather straps. He used a wrench to tighten the bolts on the rosined-up rigging that acts as the only handle on the back of the horse. He used his teeth to tighten up the heavy-leather glove he wears on his right hand. He safety-pinned his number to the back of his black leather vest with the Kevlar inside and pulled it over his head and strapped on his chaps and slipped a gel-filled pad down into the seat of his dusty-butted blue jeans.
"Ten minutes to start time!" the announcer said.
Cragar was the first cowboy to ride in the first category Saturday night at the county fair's rodeo. The weekend's three-day event was sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association. The best performers earn money and points to qualify for the International Finals Rodeo in January in Oklahoma City.
The announcer gave an invocation.
Josh took off his black cowboy hat and knelt in the dirt next to his chute.
"We ask that your presence be felt here tonight," the man said in the prayer, "and to watch over the contestants. "
Josh got up and climbed into the chute and put his boots on the bars above the horse and then lowered himself onto its back.
The horse's big right eye looked back at him. Its body twitched. Its nostrils flared.
* * *
Josh started riding bareback when he was just 12. He comes from a Tennessee rodeo family. Here on Saturday night, his brother roped calves, his mother barrel-raced, and his father, who used to ride bulls, was a judge.
He rode in rodeos in high school, and in his first three years as a pro he has traveled the IPRA circuit everywhere from Minnesota to the Carolinas to Arizona to Arkansas. Even Canada.
He was the rookie of the year in 2004 and has gone to the finals in Oklahoma City all three seasons. Last year, he had the highest average bareback score there - says so in the record books, and on the belt buckle he wears.
He has broken his right arm. Did that in Michigan.
He's broken his left arm. Did that in Tennessee.
And once, in Illinois, his hand got stuck in the rigging and he was dragged two laps around the arena up against the fence. That led to surgery on his face.
Josh turns 21 in July.
This is how he describes the eight seconds of bareback:
"Feels like your arm's fixin' to go.
"But you ain't gonna win no money if you quit."
He was in Union Point in Georgia on Friday night for a rodeo and then drove eight hours overnight to get here. Eight hours for eight seconds. His 2006 silver Dodge truck already has just under 50,000 miles on it.
Josh owns his own excavating business back home in Tennessee and makes $100 an hour on his bulldozer. There's no such guarantee, of course, on a fierce, violent, 1,500-pound bareback horse. But Josh keeps getting on with little more than chaps and guts.
He doesn't follow football or baseball or NASCAR.
He doesn't drink. He doesn't do drugs.
This is what he does. And he does it just about every weekend.
"To do this, you gotta have a lotta 'want-to,' " said Butch Stewart, IPRA's executive director.
"I'll rodeo till I die," Josh said Saturday afternoon.
* * *
Saturday night, in the chute, Josh gave a nod.
The door swung open.
And the horse just ran off. Didn't buck hardly at all. It just ran to the other end of the arena.
So Josh got a re-ride on a different horse. That meant 30 minutes of wait time. Then he got ready to do it all over again. Chaps: on. Vest: zipped and strapped. Rigging: on the horse. Rosin: on the rigging.
Again: The door swung open.
This horse bucked.
It was over in no time. It felt like forever.
The horse bucked so hard Josh's double-knotted left boot flew off. But Josh did not.
"Good ride, Josh," one of the other cowboys told him as he walked back behind the chutes.
" 'Preciate it," Josh said.
Michael Kruse can be reached at email@example.com or 352 848-1434.
If you go
At the fair
WHEN: Daily through Sunday
WHERE: Hernando County Fairgrounds, 6436 Broad St., on the south side of Brooksville
Around the grounds
- A Mexican man who looked to be in his 20s and gave his name as Arturo, only Arturo, knocked the dunk clown into the water eight times late Saturday night in a dazzling display of fast, phenomenally accurate throwing. Sure showed that big-mouthed bozo.
- Larry King says the secret to his tasty treats at King's Kettle Korn - Voted # 1 By My Momma - is three different kinds of sugars and the spices he uses in his hot oil. But that's all he'll say. "A lot of people would like to know that," King said of the recipe.
- Add this to the list of things to like about the fair: an old man wearing a cowboy hat, a bolo tie and starched, pressed boot-cut blue jeans while using a Swiss Army knife to cut up a funnel cake for his family.