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Professional Bull Riders in Buck Off the Island at Coliseum

Professional bull riders gathered to prepare on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, for this weekend's competition at Nassau Colisuem. (Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bucking bull on Long Island. You’d be harder-pressed to find someone willing to get on one’s back.

But for one weekend, some of the world’s baddest bulls and bravest riders will give Long Islanders a look into their world.

Professional Bull Riders returns to the area with Buck Off the Island, its first event here since 2005, Saturday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 24, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.

WHAT YOU’LL SEE

The event will feature 35 of the organization’s best riders as part of its top level of competition, the Built Ford Tough Series. The festivities kick off Friday with a special weigh-in ceremony, pitting rider Matt Triplett against one of the circuit’s top bulls on the scale. The competition begins Saturday evening and concludes Sunday afternoon.

Longtime riders say they enjoy coming to places like Long Island, where fans of all ages can get their first taste of the sport.

“It’s definitely something they haven’t seen before,” says rider Dakota Buttar.

“Places like Dallas, they see rodeos and bull riding all the time, they’re not necessarily into the event, they just want to see us ride,” says Sean Willingham. “Here, they have no clue about bull riding, so when they see that first bull ride, they realize, ‘This is really intense,’ and they’re sitting on the edge of their seat ready to rock and roll.”

TASTE OF THE RING

Rodeo culture is a way of life for many around the world, including Buttar, who says his family had him riding steers when he was 8 years old in Western Canada. Willingham, however, jumped right into full-size bulls after seeing a rodeo in his Georgia town as a teenager.

“We sat still long enough to watch them ride and nobody stayed on that night,” Willingham says. “I was like, ‘Why can’t they ride these bulls? They don’t look that bad.’ That’s what got me interested.”

As Willingham learned, there’s more to it than just holding on. In the competition, riders are assigned a bull at random with the goal of lasting eight seconds before being bucked off. If the rider can last the full time, both rider and bull are judged on their performances. Those scores are combined to give the rider their score for the event.

“If you’re hanging on the side or out of position, that’s what they dock your score on,” Willingham says. “They want you to make it look good.”

Keeping steady and centered on a bull takes practice, but finding effective ways to prepare can be difficult.

“[Other athletes] are constantly working on their drills and their skills or plays,” Willingham says. “So for me being a bull rider, I go to the gym and I do circuit training because there really aren’t many drills I can do for practice besides getting on the real thing.”

Staying in shape is one thing, but staying healthy is another animal.

Between falls, kicks and stomps, serious injury is commonplace, and most riders have a long list of damage done.

“Considering there’s a lot of worse that could happen, I’m lucky I haven’t had anything too serious,” Buttar says. “This year has probably been the most I’ve had. I punctured a lung, tore a ligament in my elbow.”

Willingham also believes he’s been lucky, but his list is a bit longer — dislocated hip, broken neck, wrist surgeries. Still, Willingham believes pain comes with the territory and injuries can’t stop his desire to ride.

“If I had to do everything all over again, I would do it exactly the same,” Willingham says. “But better.”

“Buck Off the Island” with Professional Bull Riders

WHEN | WHERE 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, and 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, at Nassau Coliseum

INFO 516-231-4848, nycblive.com

TICKETS $26-$131 ($15 parking)

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