Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Sun NFR coverage
Meet White Magic, the baddest buckin’ bull at the rodeo.
He’ll launch himself, all 1,600 pounds, six feet off the arena floor and leave you in a frightening moment of weightlessness before you land hard on his back. He’ll throw his weight forward, lean on his head and lurch backward if that’ll get you off his back, or dance on one hoof. If he senses you’re braced to spin left, he’ll spin right just to mess with you. He’s that smart.
The best cowboys in the world have tried to stay on him for eight seconds. Eight unbelievably long, crotch-killing, butt-pounding, ribs-rattling, head-splitting seconds. And in seven years, cowboys have stayed on him for those eight seconds only nine times in 136 attempts. In one year of competitions, not one cowboy could stay with him for the eight seconds. Yeah, he’s a crowd pleaser.
White Magic made his first NFR appearance in 2005, and this will be his last. Like other bulls, he is paid $5,000 to show up at NFR and give two rides. He turns 10 in the spring, and his owners want him to retire at the top of his game.
“I don’t want him to lose his dignity,” says Steve Gilbert, who with his wife, Cyndi, run more than 250 bucking bulls for rodeos at their ranch west of Cedar City, Utah. “He’ll get all the hay and grain he wants and have all the cows he wants, and stand in fields of grass so tall it’ll tickle his belly.”
Steve says he’d rather have Cyndi talk about White Magic. And here’s what she says of the bull: “He’s my stud muffin. He is so well put together, so rippled, so muscular, and he’s got heart.”
Ingenuity, too. Maybe you think bulls just start bucking willy-nilly when they lurch out of the chute. In fact, most bulls have patterns and behaviors, and the cowboys watch videos of the bulls to try to learn their wily ways. Each bull has a book, a kind of scouting report.
But cowboys have a hard time figuring out White Magic, Steve says. The book keeps changing.
“These bulls get as smart as the cowboys,” he says. “They’re trying to figure out how to cheat the cowboy who’s trying to figure out how to cheat him. The cowboy has a game plan and White Magic has a game plan and he never makes the same trip twice. Cowboys can’t figure him out. They study the tapes but just can’t figure him out.”
Says Cyndi: “The rider might think White Magic is going to spin right and adjust for that, and White Magic will feel what the cowboy’s doing and spin the other way instead. It’s a chess game, and he’s one smart bull.”
It makes for great entertainment, watching animal versus man. The audience, she says, “wants to see a hell of a ride and a hell of a wreck. It’s sort of like NASCAR.”
Not that the rodeo doesn’t have its tender moments.
“I see White Magic as my bull son,” Cyndi says, whose job when the bull is in the chute is to give a quick, tightening jerk to a fleece-covered rope and leather strap which wraps around the bull’s flanks the moment the gate opens, prompting him to buck. "When he’s in the chute, I’ll rub his back end, kind of massage it, to settle him down. I can tell by the way he’s standing whether he’s upset or not feeling good. I’ll give him a kind of love tap before he goes out, the way you’d give a little girl a hug before she dances in ‘Nutcracker.’ I’ll just touch him on his butt, a little love tap, before he goes out and does his thing.”
And then he does his magic. “Few bulls are so smart,” she says. “This bull is a one-in-a-lifetime.”
Well, sort of.
Remember Dolly the carbon-copy sheep? Well, the Gilberts have 30 bull clones, including six White Magic clones.
That’s the name of the game these days. You get an animal this good, you stick with him.
The oldest of the offspring will make his first professional appearance at the Helldorado Days rodeo in Las Vegas in May. And the name of White Magic’s first clone?