Not many people would describe tying their hand to an 1,800-pound animal that could trample them in a matter of seconds as freeing, but that’s exactly how bull rider Hunter Adams sees it.
“For eight seconds...from when I nod my head to when I get off, it’s like I’m free,” he says. “I ain't got to think about work, I don't’ have to think about anything else, I just know it's me and the bull and God.”
The 18-year-old Dawson County High School 2017 graduate has only been bull riding for two years, but he is about to compete in a national rodeo that will literally be a once in a lifetime experience.
In December he will make his way to Las Vegas to participate in the junior version of the National Finals Rodeo. He was one of only three in the southeast region in his age group to qualify to compete.
This is the first year that his age group has been allowed to compete in the Junior NFR. Next year, he will be too old and would have to compete as a pro.
Part of Leal’s Junior Bull Riding Championship Alabama division, Adams rides with a group of high school boys from all over the southeast region.
He explains the basics of bull riding: That after tying a bull with your bull rope and being released from the pin, the goal is to stay on for eight seconds, which is called ‘covering a bull.’ Touching with your free hand results in point reductions, which is how riders are scored if they manage to stay on the eight seconds.
Two serious injuries last year threw off Adams’ confidence in the sport, and he said getting back on the bull was hard at first.
“I got hurt in Texas [in July] and had short term memory loss, about as worse as a concussion can get,” Adams said. “I couldn’t really remember anything from the ride, so when I came back from that it was no big deal.”
But another injury in October of 2016 left Adams with a broken rib, bruised liver and collapsed both tops of his lungs.
“That one I can remember like it was yesterday, that one just sticks with me,” Adams said. “To come over that and get back, that was pretty rough.”
An MRI in December verified that Adams’ concussion had fully healed, and since then Adams has begun to practice more and be more cautious.
So far, he hasn’t let the injuries or the fear dampen his love of the sport that seems ingrained from birth.
Adams’ mom Lynn said that the obsession started as early as when he was two years old, when over and over again he would ride his spring rocking horse until eight seconds had passed and he got “thrown off.”
Adams agreed with his mom that the interest started early.
“It was just something I always wanted to do,
ever since I was little,” he said. “It just took me 16 years to convince her to
let me do it."
What mother and son both emphasized most about bull riding was the family feel, unlike anything they have ever witnessed in football or baseball.
“This is a sport unlike any sport we’ve ever been associated with. There is no ‘me’ mentality and these boys root for each other,” Lynn said. “They want Hunter to cover a bull just like they want to ride eight seconds and they know that’s the hardest eight seconds of their life.”
Adams recounted a ride when his hand got stuck in his bull rope, and a fellow rider jumped over the gate to help him free his hand before he could get stomped.
“If ever anybody is in trouble, it doesn’t matter who they are, people are going to jump the gate, they’re going to try to get you out,” Adams said. “At that point, they don’t think about what will happen if they get hurt, they just see a family member in a bad spot.”
Adams said he doesn’t have plans to ride forever, and that his ultimate dream is to have his own land with practice pens for others to come ride, something that Georgia doesn’t have much of.
For right now, he’s content to ride until he feels God tell him it's time to stop. The adrenaline Adams feels the second he enters the bull pit to when he is thrown off onto the dusty earth is like nothing else in the world.
“There’s no other feeling like when a bull blows up in the air and he starts bucking and you can stay in rhythm with him and you know you’re in rhythm with him...there’s no other feeling,” Adams said.