Cleveland man raises rodeo bucking bulls

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
CLEVELAND ó Gary Blythe believes bulls are a lot like people.
Some are nice, he said, and some are ornery.
Some play fair, and some, well … they don’t play fair, rolling and whatnot to get rid of anyone who dares climb aboard.
Rolling and similar acts of cattle cowardliness ó as bulls learn in How to Buck a Cowboy 101 ó are considered no-no’s in the rodeo world.
But some do it anyway.
“I got some honest bulls, and I got some bulls that cheat,” Blythe said, surveying a pasture where several of his brutes were grazing.
“And I got some bulls that are just bulls.”
Blythe, 57, is the owner of Gary Blythe Bucking Bulls, a business he operates from a 150-acre spread in Rowan County’s western corner.
There, Blythe raises almost 200 head of cattle, the number divided equally between bulls and cows. The cows he keeps out of necessity, while he’s used the bulls to build his reputation.
Those bruisers go by names like Mr. Juicy, Party Hound, Wrong Face and Vicious. They come with large racks of horns and sour dispositions.
Fully grown, the bulls weigh anywhere from 1,400 to 1,600 pounds, which, while big, isn’t as large as some breeders push their animals.
“The bigger the bull, the harder it is on him,” Blythe said. “It works on their joints. The big ones, they don’t last long.”
Come October, Blythe will be hauling two of his prized bulls ó Bunker Buster, a 3-year-old, and a 2-year-old that has yet to be named ó to Las Vegas for the Professional Bull Riders World Finals.
The event stretches from Oct. 31 through the second weekend of November.
Blythe’s bulls are two of only a handful from across the nation selected for the competition. The bulls qualified based on points they accumulated in the past year on the Professional Bull Riders circuit.
Those competitions are affiliated with America Buck and Bulls Inc.
Bunker Buster will be competing for a prize of $300,000. That’s the prize awarded the winner of the 3-year-old class. Blythe admitted the odds of his bull taking home that amount are slim.
“He won’t because I can’t politic like the guys who go every year,” Blythe said. “I think he has a chance of doing well, though. I could see us finishing in the top 10.”
The bulls that place in the competition’s top 25 earn their owners cash, which is a good thing. The entry fee alone is $2,500. Blythe said he’ll have at least $10,000 invested in hauling his bulls to Las Vegas and back.
It’s a lengthy journey, with Blythe driving about eight hours a day, then stopping to visit friends while letting his bulls graze. Bulls, he said, can’t ride but so long each day.
The competition in Las Vegas is designed to find the biggest, baddest bull in the land. Those that buck their riders quickly and with a vengeance are the top point-getters.
The goal of the rider is to stay aboard eight seconds, which might not seem long in the grand scheme of things but is an eternity for anyone fighting a mean-spirited brute whose weight pushes 2 tons.
Blythe has been involved in the rodeo business most of his life and got into raising bulls about 10 years ago, when he bought a few crippled bulls from a California breeder.
Bulls, he said, often damage their stifles ó much the same as a human’s knee ó during competitions. But while the human’s injury can be repaired, the same isn’t true of a bull.
Many of those injured animals are sent to slaughter.
Blythe paid $10,000 apiece for his crippled bulls and brought ’em to Rowan County to breed. Thus began Gary Blythe Bucking Bulls.
He said he hopes that one day the “Blythe breed” of bulls will be known nationwide.
Blythe said he spent about $50,000 for feed for his cattle last year, an expense far too high to classify the undertaking a hobby.
But raising bulls isn’t Blythe’s full-time business. He owns Equipment Painters & Sales, whose employees paint gas tanks for Colonial Pipeline.
Blythe’s background in the rodeo business started not long after he graduated from high school in Charlotte. He began as a rodeo clown and, eventually, became a bull rider.
But Blythe admitted that when it came to bull riding … well, he made a better clown.
“I wasn’t the best rider,” he said. “But I was a heck of a clown.”
He said the secret to being a successful rodeo clown ó they’re the guys who distract the bulls once the rider is thrown ó is to get to know the bulls you’re working with.
Blythe said he’d try to get someone who owned a number of bulls to hire him for an entire rodeo season.
Once he was acquainted with the creatures, Blythe said, it was much easier to draw their attention from a downed rider without fear of becoming bull meat.
Blythe said bull riding dates to the days of the Wild West, when cowboys used to compete to see who could ride a wild stallion the longest.
“Somewhere along the way,” Blythe said, “one of the cowboys said, ‘I bet I can ride that bull.’ ”
And so he’d try. Before long, the sport caught on.
It’s gotten fairly popular, often featured on television.
The sport is also expensive. Blythe said he’s seen bucking bulls sell for as much as $250,000. He’s sold some of his own bulls for $30,000 apiece.
Dr. Andy Gardner, a veterinarian and owner of Large Animal Medicine & Surgery on Sherrills Ford Road, said probably 50 farms in North Carolina raise rodeo bulls.
Gardner has visited a number of those farms and said Blythe does as good a job as anyone of raising and maintaining his herd.
“They’re big, strong, wild and sometimes mean,” Gardner said. “To deal with those type animals, you’ve got to be equipped. Gary has the facilities.”
Gardner said Blythe also looks after his animals in a fashion that’s not true of all who raise bulls.
“He cares for them like they’re family members,” Gardner said.
A drive around Blythe’s farm with him behind the wheel of his big Dodge pickup proves as much. Blythe and his wife, Carolyn, live in a house deep inside their Chenault Road land. The couple have a grown daughter, Annzie.
Blythe reminds anyone coming to visit to be sure to close the gates behind them.
“Some of my bulls are in a foul mood this time of year,” he told a recent visitor.
A bull can live to be about 15, though its bucking career typically ends by age 9.
“They start to burn out,” Blythe said. “One guy said they’ve only got about 60 or 70 trips in ’em in their lifetimes. He had it figured out to a science.”
Blythe keeps several old-timers around just for his love of the creatures, long after their bucking careers are past.
It gives him pleasure, Blythe said, to see the ol’ boys enjoy themselves without a care in the world.
Party Hound is one of those bulls that has ó literally ó been put out to pasture, doing little more in a day than rest and wait for his next meal.
Another bull that has a pasture to himself is Mr. Juicy, the father of Bunker Buster, one of those bulls that Blythe is hauling to Las Vegas.
As Blythe watched from his pickup one recent afternoon, Mr. Juicy stood and began to amble slowly across its pasture. The old bull hobbled a bit but otherwise didn’t seem a lot worse for wear.
“He’s got it made,” Blythe said as he watched. “As long as he can get up and act like he’s enjoying life, he’s got a home.”