Matt Palmer didn’t have time to think.
Not with a 1,500-pound bull named Diamond Willow doing its best to buck him off, indifferent to the wellbeing of the young cowboy.
On this night in Cheyenne, Wyo., many riders tried and failed to best the aggressive, muscular bulls, but none could achieve a modicum of success.
That is until Palmer took his turn.
Despite his vigorous and violent bucks, Diamond Willow couldn’t quite shake the 20-year-old.
By the time the bull finally rid himself of the pesky rider, eight seconds had passed. The victory belonged to Palmer.
“It’s just like a reaction,” Palmer said. “I’ve been doing it for so long, so it’s all momentum. It’s an adrenaline rush, too, so to be the only guy to stay on in my set, I feel like it’s a pretty big deal.”
A big deal indeed.
The 81.5-point ride earned Palmer a purse of $7,078.
Palmer, who also goes by "Bubba", has been in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) circuit for a little more than half a year.
He participated in Championship Bull Riding (CBR) for a time before deciding to make the leap to a higher promotion.
“I finally thought, ‘I’m tired of waiting. I’m getting my permit,’” said Palmer, a Chelsea graduate.
That decision has paid off both financially and career-wise.
His earnings from the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo alone were more than enough to purchase a full PRCA membership, which is Palmer’s ultimate goal.
However, the Claremore native is content with his current position within the profession.
“I’ve had enough money to fill my PRCA card, but I just want to stay on my permit through this year to get the feel of pro rodeo and see where to enter and get my name out there before I just jump right into it,” Palmer said.
He has made about $40,000 in seven months thus far. At that rate, he will be nearing $70,000 when he reaches his first anniversary.
Not bad for a 20-year-old.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, he is also responsible with his money.
“I got bills and stuff back home, so I spend it on that,” Palmer said. But I mainly just try to keep saving it up to keep entering events and keep moving down the road.”
Palmer attributes his success to his recent switch from an American rope to a Brazilian rope.
According to BeastMasterRodeo.com, the Brazilian rope has been trending among riders because of its feel, reduced tension and reaction characteristics.
While the standard American rope pulls more toward the dominant hand of the rider, the Brazilian pulls from the opposite side, allowing the rider to keep a more centered position on the bull.
“It’s helping me out so much,” Palmer said. “I’m right-handed, so my left hand is in the air. The Brazilian rope is on the right side, and it pulls from the left. It pulls from the opposite side, which helps keep you more attentive. American just hurts my hand because it pulls down so tight.”
One might think it takes many hours in the gym to build the arm strength necessary to hold on to an angry bucking animal, but the reality of bull-riding life is quite the opposite.
Palmer said he simply doesn’t have time to workout because of the rigorous travel schedule associated with the profession.
Most of his week consists of traveling to and from rodeos, so attaining a gym membership somewhere in Claremore would be pointless. He must rely on the bull riding itself to keep himself fit.
However, a rider like Palmer must constantly condition their mind to maintain confidence.
The sport is more of a mental battle than anything, Palmer said.
“You have to keep yourself tuned up and keep a good mental attitude,” Palmer said. “I just got bucked off (Wednesday night) and the night before that, too, but if you dwell on that, it just causes more problems. You have to just let it go and get on the next one.”
Of course, bull riders also need a hint of luck to go along with their physical and mental prowess.
Palmer has been lucky enough to avoid serious injury thus far in his young career. Even when he recently experienced a broken left wrist, Palmer was still able to compete because it was his free hand.
Not everyone is as fortunate, though.
“I feel like I’ve been luckier than most guys,” Palmer said. “I had two buddies who went with me to Nampa, Idaho, and one broke his jaw and the other one got his foot cut open. They had to go home, so I feel like I’m pretty fortunate to stay healthy.”
Regardless, Palmer isn’t worried about his abundance of luck or lack thereof.
He is instead focused on continuing this string of success, using it to propel him to bull-riding stardom.
“I’ve definitely flipped a switch or something,” Palmer said. “This is probably the best I’ve been doing during my PRCA run so far.”