Hold on Tight
Making every ride count at Stegall’s Arena
By Mike Savicki
The chute gate swings open quickly. The rider holds the bull rope tightly and bolts into the arena. Trying to impress the judges with a show of skill and balance, he sits tall and exhibits poise and composure as the animal grunts and snorts loudly between his legs. The whistle sounds, and the rider jumps to the ground, raising his arms high to the delight of the thunderous spectators.
And that’s just the mutton bustin’. Imagine the excitement when a one-ton bull blasts out of the chute and the rider is challenged with controlling enough raw power and rage to launch the Space Shuttle. Rodeo night at Stegall’s Arena in Concord is in full swing, and balancing fun with adrenaline is the main event. Hanging on tight until the whistle blows is the credo for all the riders.
Stan Stegall and his wife, Robin, have operated the weekly rodeo for over fifteen years. Stegall says the Sunday night rodeo is one of the largest weekly events in the region. Riders typically travel from as far away as Ohio and Georgia to compete. A typical night draws nearly 500 spectators.
Local contest, high energy
PBR Challenger Tour rider, Josh Faircloth of Randleman, North Carolina, is a regular competitor at Stegall’s. He says there is more bull riding in North Carolina than almost anywhere else in the country. “Almost everyone who rides pro passes through Stegall’s at some point. I can ride almost every night of the week across the country if I want and love the bulls and the environment here on Sundays.”
Faircloth, 20, began competitive riding at 14 and quickly progressed from the intermediate to open class. He currently competes on the Challenger Tour which is one step below the Built Ford Tough Professional Series. Unlike professional athletes in many major sports, bull riders do not earn a salary for participating.
“It’s all about staying on for the full count,” attests Josh Faircloth. “If you don’t stay on until you hear the whistle, you get nothing for the ride.”
He adds, “It is the adrenaline rush and love of the sport that keep me going. No two bulls are the same, and every ride is different. Riding bulls different; it’s not all about the money.”
Stan Stegall says his weekly events pay respectable prize money and serve as a stepping stone to riders like Faircloth who want to advance through the ranks. To advance to a higher level on the PBR, a rider must earn a certain level of qualified prize money in competitions of their choice.
No bull, no problem
To aspiring cowboys who want to test their skills on other animals before riding a bull, Stegall’s hosts other classes. “Sure, the big draw is the open class bull riding,” admits Stan Stegall, “but there is longhorn calf riding and steer riding for younger and more inexperienced riders. There’s nothing easy about that, and I have seen riders pushed hard before the bulls.”
An evening at Stegall’s even offers events for kids. “I try to make it all about family,” comments Stan Stegall. “There is an event for everyone, from calf and steer riding to mutton bustin’, and a cash and candy scramble with a prize for grabbing a ribbon.”
While the mutton bustin’ is the first test for aspiring bull riders, and the calf and steer offer challenges for the intermediates, open bull riding is the real deal. Josh Faircloth concludes, “If you want to compare us to NASCAR then I guess that’s a fair thing to do if you think bull riding is all about the wrecks. But there is so much more to it. Every bull is different and every ride is like opening a box of Cracker Jacks, you just never know what you will get when the chute gate opens.”
This article was originally published in the August 2009 edition of Currents Magazine.