When one of Katie Parker’s bucking bulls goes into the chute for the first time to train, it’s like Christmas morning for the Los Olivos native.
“Folks don’t realize all the work that goes into training a bucking bull even before the rider gets on,” Parker told Noozhawk. “The work starts before they are born, getting the right mix of genetics when breeding to raising the bull.”
Raised on the Fess Parker Ranch, her iconic grandfather’s Santa Ynez Valley spread, Parker spent her childhood riding horses and helping with the cattle — and loving every minute.
“I can remember as a young kid feeding flowers that I picked to our neighbors’ cattle through the fence and telling my grandpa I would run his ranch someday,” she recalled.
“My mom entered me in Western pleasure-riding shows, and I was good at it,” she added. “But my heart was in going fast, and I wanted to barrel race and rope.”
She started taking lessons from Cindy McClellan at the Little Big Riding School in Santa Ynez, and ended up giving lessons for a few years while attending high school at Olive Grove Charter School.
It was in one of her animal-science classes that Parker started breeding bucking bulls, and she began marketing herself at local rodeos.
“One of my favorite rodeo memories is at a futurity event in Santa Maria when my whole family came to watch one of my young bulls, Alamo,” she said. “He ended up winning the event, and I knew this was where I belonged.”
Parker spends most of her time on the road, traveling to rodeos with her bulls in tow.
The farthest away she’s gone for a rodeo is Louisiana, but it was at a rodeo four years in Anaheim where she met her now-fiancé, Rocky McDonald, a professional bull rider. They’ve been a team ever since.
“Rocky really balances me when it comes to training the bulls, because of course I am partial to the bull winning,” she said. “But he opened my eyes to what a rider needs from the bull.”
From the time the bulls are bred, they are fed a special diet and exercise program to ensure they’re prepared for going into the rodeo. That’s because, like the riders, the bulls are judged on their performance.
“When you watch a rodeo and the bull riding, there is so much more to it than just jumping on an unruly bull and trying to hold on for eight seconds,” Parker said.
According to American Bucking Bull Inc., the bulls are judged on five elements of the performance:
» The buck, which refers to the height achieved with the front feet and shoulders as a bull begins each jump of a trip
» The kick, the extension and snap of the hind legs at the peak of each jump
» The spin, which is the most difficult to assess if a bull is only ridden for a jump or two
» Intensity, the amount of effort, or level of intensity that a bull is using as he bucks
» Degree of difficulty
“It doesn’t look good for the rider or the bull to only go a second or two, because it doesn’t showcase what the bull can do, and neither gets good points,” Parker explained.
Parker even rides her bulls, saying the feeling of being on such a powerful animal is like no other.
“Riding bulls is not like riding a horse,” she said. “Their skin is looser and the movements are just so different from being in a saddle.”
Parker is set on building a name for herself in the male-dominated sport of bull riding.
“Being a woman in the bucking-bull industry is hard, because I think a lot of people don’t want to take me seriously,” she said. “I am here to prove them wrong. This job is 10 times more rewarding than anything I’ve done.”
She kept her promise to her late grandfather, who died in 2010, by taking over the cattle ranch, managing their herd of horses and raising her young family with her fiancé.
They also have started a beef business, raising a cross of Wagyu cattle, a Japanese breed that is desirable for the intense marbling of its meat.
Click here for more information about Fess Parker Cattle Co.
— Raiza Giorgi is a Noozhawk contributing writer from the Santa Ynez Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.