Blake Dunsmore grew up going to rodeos and watching his big brother, Matt, climb astride bulls with names like Bushwacker, Perfect Storm and Slingblade.
Whether at a state fair with thousands of dollars on the line or at a two-bit backwater, under the lights or on a sunny afternoon, the routine was always the same:
Matt, now 34 and living in Elk River, would climb into a chute, swing a leg over one of the big animals, rosin a bull rope and wrap it twice across the palm of his gloved right hand, cowbell swinging beneath the bull.
Then, his cowboy hat pushed low, Matt would nod for the gate to swing open.
At which time, anything could happen.
“The thrill of it appealed to me,” said Blake, 22, of Forest Lake. “That and I wanted to be like my big brother. So when I was in sixth grade, I started riding bulls.”
Sunday night, both brothers will be on the card in Hamel, on the fourth and final day of the annual Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) World’s Championship Hamel Rodeo on the western edge of the Twin Cities.
The night before, on Saturday, they’ll ride bulls at an Isanti, Minn., rodeo, and the night before that, Friday, they’ll take turns in Spooner, Wis.
At each, American flags will fly, brats and beer will sell like hotcakes, and announcers will tell old jokes while crowds hoot and holler for barrel racers, ropers, steer wrestlers and trick riders.
Then the real show will begin: bull riding.
“That’s the way it is in summer,” Blake said. “Matt and I try to make three rodeos a weekend. Last week we were in Illinois, Park Rapids and Manawa, Wis.”
A collegiate bull rider at South Dakota State University, Blake is proud of the vehicle he drives in ways some students his age might not be.
“It’s a minivan,” he said. “It gets pretty good mileage, and I’ve got a bed outfitted in the back, so Matt and I can sleep in it at rodeos. That is, if we get a chance to lie down. Some nights we’ll get to a rodeo just in time to ride.”
To win money in Hamel, Matt and Blake likely will have to stay atop their bulls the full 8 seconds. Otherwise they’ll be out their entry fees, which can range up to $250.
“At a rodeo in Mandan [N.D.] a while back, only one guy rode his bull and he took home all the money, $14,000,” Blake said. “Last weekend I won about $2,000. But any weekend that you break even is a good weekend.”
At 5 feet, 7 inches and 150 pounds, Matt is ideally built for riding bulls. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he rode bulls on scholarship, he tried team sports when he was a student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School.
“But I wasn’t any good,” he said. “Anyway, I wanted to ride bulls.”
Past the age when most cowboys give up bull riding, or are forced to retire because of injuries, Matt stays fit practicing yoga and Pilates, and once bought a unicycle to hone his balance.
None of which prevented a bull from busting him up in Nebraska a few years back, breaking his collarbone and six ribs, and puncturing a lung.
Matt’s rope hand had hung up when the bull pulled him “down in the well,” or alongside the animal, and he bounced like a rag doll until he finally broke free.
Then the bull stomped him.
“My front teeth are fake and I’ve had some concussions, but generally I feel pretty good,” Matt said. “My wife is a barrel racer, and if it weren’t for her and for Blake still wanting to rodeo, maybe I’d have given it up by now.”
Taller than his brother, but weighing no more, Blake is lanky at 6 feet and 150 pounds, almost the same stature as the incomparable Lane Frost, who was killed in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1989 by a bull named Takin’ Care of Business.
Frost, a world champion who in 1988 rode the great bull Red Rock four out of seven times after other riders had failed in 309 consecutive attempts, had dismounted Takin’ Care of Business after the full 8 seconds but was head-butted in the ribs when he turned away.
Nowadays, riders wear required protective vests, and most wear helmets.
Like Frost, Blake started riding bulls with his left hand, though he’s righthanded. That was before a surgeon inserted two plates and 12 screws in Blake’s left forearm. Now he rides righthanded.
“I don’t do Pilates or yoga like Matt does,” Blake said. “I’ve got a summer job filling potholes for the city of Forest Lake. I get enough of a workout doing that.”
By coincidence, the bull Blake drew to ride in Hamel is the same one that bucked him off last weekend in Park Rapids.
The animal’s name: Nasty Boy.
“Coming out of the chute, he broke to my left,” Blake said. “I might have stayed on had he broken to the right, into my rope hand.”
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org