In a reckless attempt to prove there is no idea too outlandish in the pursuit of rodeo entertainment, we now have bull bubble soccer. Don’t worry if you’re not too good at soccer, you just have to be really good at healing.
Before diving into the latest rodeo fringe fad, a bigger question might be, will America ever get enough of carnival-like entertainment?
Maybe it’s a product of the times. Perhaps a backlash against the uber-sanitized life we now lead with a bubble-wrapped generation facing a brave new world armed with every conceivable child restraint.
Bicycle helmets today look like they could survive a meteor shower. Scissors are so blunted and dysfunctional that they can barely put a fold in tissue paper. Playgrounds are stripped of everything but the water fountain.
Living dangerously today has been equated with eating non-organic ice cream.
A certain thrill-seeking segment of the population is grabbing the bull by the horns (nearly literally) when it comes to putting some spice back into life. And an even larger segment of the population — judging from rodeo crowds across the nation — can’t get enough of the carnage.
The Need For Bleed
Rodeo on its own is inherently perilous at times. Bull riding is one of the most dangerous 8 seconds ever invented. Other roughstock events like saddle bronc and bareback riding can be cavity-loosening as well.
The sport of rodeo is meant to show off the skillset of the average cowboy or ranch hand — riding, roping and the like. To keep adrenaline high for the short attention span of today’s audiences, bull riding, bullfighting and other high-octane events have been added.
And the trend continues.
Ranging from the bizarre to the uninsurable, these specialty acts like mutton bustin’, a calf scramble, cowboy poker and cowboy pinball are popping up more and more at local rodeos.
Many rodeo operators try to fill time between events with these contestant participation hijinks. And just when you think they can’t get wilder, along comes bull bubble soccer.
Bull Bubble Soccer
Bull bubble soccer is a takeoff on bubble soccer, which is apparently a thing.
It is sometimes referred to as Zorb ball or hamster ball. At least one company in Casper rents the equipment necessary, including the life-sized PVC/polyurethane balls contestants are encased in as they run around.
In bull bubble soccer, a Mexican fighting bull is introduced into the arena as volunteers from the audience attempt to kick a soccer ball to one end or the other.
Often, the soccer aspect is all but forgotten. Everyone, even El Toro, it seems, knows the real highlight is to see a bull toss a bubble boy into the air, or even pop a Zorb and trample its occupant.
Most iterations include prize money for winning the soccer game or taking the hardest hit from a bull.
One of the first iterations appeared in Minnesota a few years ago where it is still put on regularly at the Waconia Rodeo. The crazy scene can also be found at Santa Maria Elks Rodeo in California, the Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo in Vernal, Utah, and in various rodeos in Texas.
Not In Wyoming
Cowboy State Daily did not find a rodeo in Wyoming that features bull bubble soccer. Jackson Hole Rodeo, operated by the Wilson family since 2009, runs rodeos twice a week during the summer season.
Owner/operator Phil Wilson has done a little bit of mutton bustin’, sheep scramble and grab-the-bull-by-the-horns.
But bull bubble soccer? A hard pass for Wilson.
“We don't do it at ours simply because we deal with a different crowd,” Wilson said, referring to a truly international audience of visitors from around the world that pour into Jackson every summer season.
They include many well-meaning, but uninitiated, fans as well as the prying eyes of anti-rodeo organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
“We don’t do anything out of the ordinary. We don't even do tie-down roping because of PETA. We won't give them a chance to destroy our sport,” Wilson said.
Tie-down roping involves roping, dismounting and tying a calf. The jerk at the end of the rope, as well as the throw required by the contestant, can give the impression to those without a rodeo background that a 275-pound calf is being handled roughly.
“We do this touch the bull by the horns thing once in a while,” Wilson said. “We get some of the dirtiest, orneriest, outlaw steers we got for that one. It’s a hoot.”
Wilson changed his calf scramble to a sheep scramble. The contestant event invites all children in the audience to chase a sheep around the arena to remove a ribbon tied to it. Wilson said the calves got to kicking kids too often.
More Rodeo Events You’ve Never Heard Of
Cowboy poker or bull poker can be found on occasion in Wyoming.
It came onto the scene around 2012. It involves audience members participating by buying a seat at a mock poker table in the middle of the rodeo arena floor. A bull is turned loose and the last player still seated at the table wins the prize money.
A similar iteration called Toro Totter appeared at Costa Mesa, California’s OC Fair in 2011. It is another level of hit-or-miss goring involving contestants riding a carnival-like teeter-totter that randomly puts each in harm’s way every now and then.
Cowboy Pinball is another popular event where contestants are required to remain inside a circle drawn on the arena floor as a charging bull looks for victims. Last one standing collects the money.
Other, lesser-known time-killers include cow chip tossing (chip chucking), wagon races, wild horse races and wild cow milking.