HARRISONBURG — Marc Etchebarne put on his cowboy hat and red flannel shirt and stared at the bulls, ready to take on whichever one was thrown at him during the rodeo.
Although the Monday evening rodeo at the Rockingham County Fair also included barrel racing, roping, steer wrestling and sheep riding, the bull riding seemed to be the main event.
Etchebarne, 30, of Timberville, said he started off training horses in high school but wanted to step out and begin riding bulls. Almost 13 years later, he’s still stepping into the ring ready to hold tight and stay on the bull for eight seconds.
“I always wanted to be a cowboy,” Etchebarne said. “Riding bulls is hard because you aren’t trained with a bull — it’s whatever is drawn for you right at that moment.”
He said the hardest part is the mental game.
“It’s 90% mental and 10% physical,” he said. “You can have the biggest muscles and still not be able to last more than a second on that bull.”
Adam Hanger, 18, from Augusta County, came to watch the rodeo and was excited to see the bull riding.
Although he grew up on a farm riding horses, he said anytime he can catch a rodeo, he will.
“It’s thrilling to watch them as they get ready to get on the bull and then them trying to get away from the bull,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a very hard thing to train for and accomplish.”
In order to have any chance of a successful ride, Etchebarne said it’s important to get one’s head right.
“I pray before every ride to get my head right,” he said. “Cowboys do a lot of praying.”
Because of how aggressive the bulls are and how difficult it is to stay on the bull when being whipped around, Etchebarne has had more injuries than he can count.
A broken sternum, wrist, tearing both groins and splitting his face open are all in his history, and he said there’s no easy or safe way to get to the ground.
Alyssa Wise, 13, came from North Carolina to see the fair and watch the rodeo.
Sitting with Maleasa Blackway, a family friend, she anxiously wanted to see the rodeo begin.
“I’ve always thought the rodeo and especially bull riding was interesting,” Alyssa said. “I’m sure trying to balance on a bull is so hard and I can’t imagine trying to learn to do that.”
Blackway, who said the fair is her favorite thing to do all year, said she was excited to see the bull riding because it would no doubt get her on the edge of her seat.
“You never want to see anyone get hurt, but the thrill of watching them be thrown around on the bulls is exciting,” she said.
Etchebarne said just like a soccer player gets back on the field or race car driver gets back in their car after being hurt, it’s the passion that brings anyone back to what they love to do.
“I get the butterflies every time I’m about to ride and compete,” he said. “I’ve traveled from New York to Texas to do this.”
He said one never knows when it could be the last time they ride a bull.
“There’s only one person watching out for you,” he said. “So it’s a pleasure every time I get the opportunity to ride a bull. I’ll always have the drive to get on and do it as long as I’m physically able to.”