Jesse Tennent was so nervous he threw up before he stepped into the ring for his attempt at freestyle bullfighting during the Ed Miller Xtreme Bull Riding at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show.
“I was scared to death. I was puking before I called for my bull. It’s been a year since I’ve done this. I was crying to my wife. She said, ‘Jesse, man up and go do this,’” Tennent said.
Tennent overcame the anxiety and turned in the top score of the three bullfighting contestants with a mark of 86 points to win the first bullfighting event at the EOLS Thursday.
The Springfield native said he grew up watching bullfighting.
“When there were bullfights (when I was younger), it made my week. It made my month. It made me happy,” he said Thursday. “I got to go make some other kid happy today.”
Tennent had hurdled many obstacles to get to this night. He said he’s been a professional bullfighter since he was a teenager, but just as he became a pro the sport was dropped from being a sanctioned event.
Ever since, he has been a vocal backer of getting the sport back at the pro level while still competing when it was on the docket in a non-sanctioned event or an open event.
“We still had a world championship. This was going on outside of pro rodeo, but I knew (in pro rodeo) was where it needed to be,” he said.
His anxiety before Thursday’s event was understandable.
“I dislocated my hip and separated my shoulder four weeks ago,” he said. “I am out of shape. I was not supposed to be here (but) I was not (going to make) any excuses.”
Tennent, who was the final of the three contestants in the inaugural EOLS event, took his 60 seconds in the ring against Leapfrog. The intent in freestyle bullfighting is to get as close to the animal as you can and still avoid it, and Tennent appeared to master the animal. Several times early on he worked right up to the head of the bull, only to then dodge out of the way, out-maneuver it or outrun it.
He said there’s no thinking involved once you’re in the ring. It’s all instinct.
“It’s all reaction,” he said. “There is no thought process involved. It’s death before dishonor out there.”
Late in the round, Tennent was taken down and briefly attacked by the bull.
All it did was fire up the 32-year-old more, and once he recovered he made one final run at the animal.
“I (was) going to take (ownership of) the center of the (ring) and make him pay for it,” Tennent said.
Miles Barry placed second, scoring 75 points, and in third was Garrett Wilkerson, who had 64 points. Both also took hits during their rounds — Barry while against a panel on the edge of the ring, and Wilkerson taking a shot to the ankle as he leaped out of the ring to dodge a hit.
All three put up a display that impressed the other champion of the evening — Ed Miller Xtreme Bull Riding champion Parker Breding.
“(Those) guys are crazy. I’ve fought bulls, (but) just the safety part of it (for bull riders) when I was younger in high school,” he said. “I loved it but never quite had the guts to go and mess around with it like they do. I still don’t think you could pay me to do that. My hat’s off to them.”
Breding claimed his second championship in the Ed Miller Xtreme Bulls, waiting about 2-1/2 hours before finally getting his opportunity aboard Crazy Hair.
The wait was well worth it. Breding, who took the 47th ride of the evening, turned in the winning score of 89 points. He added the victory Thursday to his championship in the 2015 edition of the event, which is now in its 10th year.
“It’s outstanding to be able to come back here and get the win again. I’ve been here a couple times since then and didn’t have much luck,” he said.
The Edgar, Montana, native said he was considering getting a doctor’s release from the competition as he was dealing with a broken left hand, but when he saw he would be riding Crazy Hair, he decided to stay in.
“(I) saw I had a good bull tonight and that changed my mind. I thought I could tape (my hand), try and see how it goes. I guess it was meant to be,” he said, noting he had heard a lot of positives about the animal. “Some of the more well-known bulls they have a stat system online (for). You can look them up and see where they bucked.
“Everybody kept telling me how good he was, and I trusted them. It turned out to be true.”
Breding said he needed a good effort from the bull, especially given the way the top score had steadily increased throughout the evening. Chase Dougherty had taken a lead with 83 points just five rides into the night, but the number was surpassed several times — 83.5 by Dalton McMurtrie, then 84.5 by Dakota Beck, and later an 87.5 by Garrett Smith. The last score by Smith was only three rides before Breding.
“Being at the end like that, and this was one of the longer events, it was getting kind of cold out. I was struggling with that, mainly, trying to keep my hand warm and move around, and trying to joke around with people to keep my mind off it,” he said. “Seeing all the higher scores, and then an 87.5 a couple ahead of me, I was thinking, ‘Man, this bull is going to have to really have a good day,’ and he dang sure did. It worked out perfect.”
In all, seven riders broke the 80-point plateau on the night: Breding (89), second-place Smith (87.5), third-place Beck (84.5), fourth-place McMurtie (83.5), Dougherty and Caleb McMillan (83) in a tie for fifth, and seventh-place Ethan Weiser (80.5).
Derek Kolbaba, a Joseph native and PBR standout, was 10th with 77 points.
The EOLS continues into the weekend with the PRCA rodeo beginning today and running through Sunday.