When the time comes for most bull riders to hang up their spurs, Shawn Proctor of Tooele is still riding strong.
At 31 years of age, he tied for first place at the Tooele County Bit and Spur Rodeo over the Fourth of July. And he still has more rodeos to ride.
Proctor has been a bull rider since he was 13. He rode competitively for the Tooele High School rodeo team, which was about the only available competition for young riders then, he said. Proctor’s career as a competitive bull rider has won him approximately 60 belt buckles, which is like winning a medal in other sports. He’s also won three saddles and four guns.
All are prestigious prizes to achieve in this sport, according to Proctor. But his greatest prize so far was the 2008 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Proctor described it as being the “Super Bowl” of rodeos. Only about 14 bull riders across the nation are allowed to compete. It is 10 nights of hard competition, and Proctor finished with a 7th-place position — in the world.
Proctor said the life of a bull rider isn’t easy. It takes a lot out of you, physically, mentally and emotionally. Time wise, it requires serious devotion. It’s also a lot of time on the road, living on couches, campers or in a car. And it’s a year-round sport, with the most important time being June through late August.
When asked what is the most serious injury he’s ever had, Proctor smiled and said to Peggy Proctor, his mom, “Do you want to get her the list, or should I?”
He said he’s been knocked out 34 to 36 times — he’s lost count of the exact number. He has suffered broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and a skull fracture. Along the way, he’s had two shoulder surgeries, two wrist surgeries and foot surgery. The skull fracture kept him out of competition for three months. After that, he had to wear a helmet for two months.
Proctor said in all the years he’s been competing, he’s only had one full year without injuries. Although the rodeo season lasts all year, most bull riders only get about five good months of competing before an injury occurs.
Why does he choose to put himself through this, after suffering so many past injuries, and with the likelihood of more to occur? It’s for the love of the ride, he said. During a past newspaper interview he said, “Everything is unpredictable. You can’t think you know how to ride a bull because they have a mind of their own. That’s the challenge of it.”
Proctor said he will continue to ride bulls until it’s no longer fun, or until his body won’t let him. But considering he was either sitting or kneeling on a yoga ball during the interview for this story, and making it look easy, it seems he still has more bull riding in him.
“Have you ever seen someone with such good balance?” his mom said. “And he’s always had it.”
Proctor said he spends a lot of time exercising his body. The more your body is in shape, the less likely of injury. And if you do get injured, the body heals faster. Being in shape also makes for a better ride.
What also makes for a better ride are the strong bonds between competitors and others. In rodeo, you become a family, he said.
His mom said, “You go to these rodeos and if somebody needs something, somebody else will offer it. Rodeo people are a real close-knit family.”
Yes, there is big competition between each rodeo cowboy, and everyone wants to do better than the next guy and win big. But at the end of the day your biggest competitor may end up being your bunk mate, or dinner guest, said Proctor, because rodeo people share and become family to one another.
Proctor has friends throughout the United States that will give him a place to call home for a couple of days while he competes on the circuit. Proctor said he once went for two weeks without a vehicle. He just had two bags, but he went all over the western United States.
“Everybody’s got a couch to spare, and someone’s going the same way you are,” he said.
Proctor also told of a time when his traveling buddy met a couple on an airplane heading to Texas. Even though they were strangers, they invited the two to their home for the night, just because they were bull riders.
“They were really nice people,” he said. “They fed us pizza.”
Proctor doesn’t attend every rodeo now. He picks and chooses.
“If I draw a bad bull, I don’t feel I have to get on him anymore,” he said.
His parents said their son has been home more this year then he has for the past 13 years. He spends more time raising bulls for bull riding, trying to get the best bloodline for the better bull. He also has a full-time construction job.
Proctor said he also spends a lot of time training future rodeo riders as a volunteer teacher at a school in Mount Pleasant that the Bar T Rodeo Company has established. He teaches safety and technique to young kids who are just getting involved in the sport. Some of the local boys he’s helped out have been Tyler Williams and Adam Lassero. Although he may be slowing down a bit, he is still closely involved in the rodeo business.
Proctor said he has a goal of reaching the NFR competition one more time. But he’s becoming more selective on the risks and rides.
“If it works out, I draw the right bulls, win the right rodeos, I’d love to go back to the NFR,” Proctor said. “But at the same time, I don’t see myself going to a hundred rodeos anymore.”
His current goal is to ride in the Days of ‘47 Rodeo, which has become a mini NFR in the last few years. In the meantime, Proctor will continue to be a bull rider, because it all comes down to “for the love of the ride.”