Just to get my prejudices out in the open, I’m not that big a fan of bullriding. The idea of strapping yourself to a certfiably pissed-off, 2000 pound bovine and staying on for eight seconds without getting thrown, stomped, or gored seems like the height of idiocy (though I had a lot more respect for the guys when they didn’t wear protective vests and hockey helmets).
Still, there a large number of folks who have a compelling urge to do just that, and the documentary “Shut Up and Ride” tells the story of four of them: Jamie Davis has been riding since he was a young boy in rural Arkansas, but has never won a bullriding championship; Danell Tipton is an up-and-coming 19-year old phenom who brings a little more style and braggadocio than most; Peter Dightman is the son of the first black cowboy to make it to the professional bullriding finals; and the film’s central white rider, Dale Stowe, is looking to make a comeback. All four compete year-round to earn enough money to make the top 15 earners at year’s end and compete in the bullriding championship.
There are the usual dramatic subplots. Davis breaks his leg during a ride and makes the ill-advised decision to ride again a mere six weeks after his injury. Meanwhile Tipton is making his play for the top ranks of money earners and Dightman is coping with a string of poor rides. The riders live essentially rodeo to rodeo, using the money they make (if any, only the top three riders get a cut) to travel to their next ride. Stowe, apparently poorer than most, drives everywhere with his wife and two kids in a crapped compact car, often driving all night to make it to the next day’s rodeo in a distant state.
I mentioned that three of the riders are black, though there’s very little rumination on the subject of race in rodeo beyond some introspection by Davis and Dightman, and the fact all of the riders portrayed in film are friendly with each other. A little more examination of this might have been illuminating, given that the audience for professional bullriding – and rodeo in general – remains overwhelmingly white.
The events we’re watching also take place ten years ago, and if there was any explanation as to why this is, I missed it. The film also drags in spots, and the big finish at the national championships needed to move faster to better capture the tension.
“Shut Up and Ride” does shine some light on the personalities who ride bulls, and the behind-the-scenes access directors Mark Hoffman and Mike Anzalone obtained shows us the good, bad, and ugly of the professional rodeo circuit (though compared to something like the Professional Bull Riders, Inc., the IPRA looks strictly minor league). You probably won’t envy the lives of these riders, but you have to respect their passion.