Riders Thankful for the Opportunity to Compete and Willing to Do Whatever it Takes

Riders Thankful for the Opportunity to Compete and Willing to Do Whatever it Takes Photo courtesy PBR.com

Taylor Toves was sitting inside his RV on the campgrounds of the Lazy E Arena ranch when his cell phone buzzed late Saturday night.
Toves glanced down and saw he had a text message from five-time PBR World Finals qualifier Colby Yates, who was also sitting in an RV of his own across the parking lot.

Because of strict social guidelines put into place by the PBR for the non-public PBR Las Vegas Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, Yates was unable to walk over to Toves’ RV and show him the video he had just seen.
Yates had just watched the ESPN SportsCenter clip of Toves winning Round 1 with an 89.5-point ride on Biker Bob.
“That is pretty cool,” Toves recalled on Monday. “SportsCenter is always a huge deal, not just for me, but cool for the PBR period. That put us out in front of a whole lot more people.”
Toves explained he did not know the PBR had been working towards getting highlights broadcast on the popular mainstream sports network.
“I had no idea,” Toves added. “I was just as surprised as you were. When Colby sent that to me, he was super pumped about it, too. I was like, ‘That is cool. That is badass.’”
Yates had also appeared in the ESPN clip with the network showing him going through the PBR’s medical screening at Lazy E Arena.
Guthrie was a closed-to-the-public event, with all athletes and crew members following strict social distancing and self-isolation protocols approved by local, county and state officials to ensure safety amid the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
It had been 41 days since Toves and the other 40 bull riders in attendance had been able to compete for a paycheck. The PBR went on hiatus following the Gwinnett Invitational in Duluth, Georgia, on March 14-15.
The Western and rodeo world is one of many industries in the United States that has been at a standstill because of the pandemic. Thousands of cowboys and those with income tied to events and rodeos remain out of work amid multiple postponements and cancellations of events throughout the world.

This past weekend and the next two Unleash The Beast events at the Lazy E Arena (May 9-10; May 16-17) are a significant opportunity for the riders, stock contractors and personnel to continue to earn a living for their families during a tumultuous time.
“It is huge,” Toves, who finished fifth overall, said. “This is how I make a living. I don’t have a normal job and most of the guys don’t, so when we are off for a while like that, we know how to take it. We have all handled it before, not having money, because you go through bad streaks where you don’t make a lot of money, but it is so nice to be able to go back and put some money away again.
“Just to have that opportunity to be out there doing what we all love to do, I am very grateful for it.”
Colten Jesse finished second overall and echoed Toves’ sentiments.
“I thought it was a great event,” Jesse said. “The PBR did an outstanding job on the protocol of the whole event to ensure our safety, and everything went pretty smoothly, I feel like. I’m just thankful for the opportunity that was made possible for us.”
Toves was the first rider to arrive at the Lazy E Arena last week for check-in, and he admitted that competing in a closed environment during a worldwide pandemic is something he will never forget. Nor was it something he could have ever expected.
“It was totally different,” Toves said. “Most of the guys that do this for a living, we are not used to anything like that. We get to hang out with everybody. We are all friends, so we usually do hang out with everybody, and everybody is just a big group, but that whole deal was definitely something new for me.
“I was actually the first one there for check-in, so everybody that was there waiting for me had masks and stuff on, and they handed me my little packet of stuff and tell us exactly what we have to do. You wait for somebody to come get you, and they take you inside and do the test. It was crazy.
“It is a totally different world compared to what we are used to, but if that is what it takes for us to get back going again I am all for it.”
Every rider was supplied with a PBR Unleash The Beast face cover during the check-in process.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” Mason Taylor said. “I didn’t like wearing the mask, but it wasn’t bad. I’ll do anything so that we can keep having events. I honestly liked the setup.”
For every official PBR face cover purchased, the organization will donate a face mask to first responders/medical personnel.
Throughout the weekend, riders were broken into specific social groups and were only allowed on the back of the bucking chutes during their specific designated section.
In an odd scene for an Unleash The Beast event, the bucking chutes were a barren desert compared to the normal whooping and hollering that comes when a rider reaches the 8-second mark.
2018 World Finals event winner Marco Eguchi said that, of course, the bull riders would prefer to have their friends on the back of the bucking chutes, but he understands that this is just one of many small sacrifices that had to be made.  
“I’m very thankful for all that PBR has done for us, especially in difficult times that we are going through,” Eguchi said. “I do prefer the normal way, but to have everyone safe for the experience in Guthrie is important. Guthrie was like a practice day for me.”
The 37-year-old had spent the past 41 days social distancing and stayed out of public. Once he got on site, Vieira made sure that he and his fellow bull riders did their part to stay as safe as possible.
“The guys I stayed together with here, we take care of everything,” Vieira said while making the three-hour drive home to Decatur, Texas, Sunday night. “We used (hand sanitizer). We wear gloves. Masks. We were careful.”
All of the riders and staff were obligated to drive to Guthrie instead of fly.
That meant some riders had long commutes, especially Cody Casper.
It took Casper 27 hours one way to make the trip from Washington state to the Lazy E Arena, but that was a journey he was more than certainly willing to make for the chance to compete.
“I was really thankful to get back to work,” Casper said. “It was definitely weird being totally healthy sitting at home, but all that did was make me crave it even more. The guidelines that they had us follow were pretty intense, but whatever it takes to have a bull riding.”
The PBR Unleash The Beast returns to action again in a closed-to-the-public environment on May 9-10 with the Cooper Tires Invitational, presented by Ariat. Fans can watch the event LIVE on CBS Sports Network and RidePass. Round 1 begins at 8 p.m. ET and Championship Sunday starts at 3 p.m. ET.

By Justin Felisko | PBR.com