In the spotlight
Native riders invited to compete in PBR's Ty Murray Invitational
By Sunnie Redhouse
ALBUQUERQUE, April 2, 2009
A s Cody Four Colors looked at his computer screen in his Montana home, he saw the many faces of the Professional Bull Rider's Built Ford Tough Series.
While looking, he got a phone call.
On the other end of the line was a PBR official telling him that Ty Murray wanted to invite five of the top Native American bull riders and he was one of them.
"I felt pretty good," Four Colors said. "It was exciting."
The four others riders couldn't agree more.
Four Colors is a native of Rocky Boy, Mont. The other Native riders invited were Greg Louis, Northern Cree from Browning, Mont.; and Diné cowboys Spud Jones from Tohatchi, N.M., Ryan Bitsui from Ganado, Ariz., and J.R. Billy from Yah-Ta-Hey, N.M.
The PBR Built Ford Tough Series began in early January and will conclude in early November in Las Vegas, Nev., where the world finals will be held.
The tour has a total of about 34 stops with one in Albuquerque last weekend featuring the five Native Americans.
On the first day March 27, Ty Murray personally welcomed the Native American riders.
Cody Four Colors was one of the youngest at 18 years old.
In the first go-round, Four Colors was bucked off in 4.9 seconds. On Saturday night, he was bucked off 2.1 seconds. In his final ride on Sunday, he rode for 3.5 seconds.
Four Colors said he leaves the competition with nothing but the knowledge of how to be a better bull rider.
"It was a pretty good learning experience," he said, "that's where most bull riders strive to be at. During the week whenever I work out that's what pushes me."
Every day, Four Colors wakes up thinking about bull riding. His lifelong dream is to be one of the best.
He wakes up before 10 a.m., works out at a local fitness center, saddles horses and checks on the cows for his grandfather. At night, before he heads to bed he reads a book called Psycho Cybernetics, from which he learns the mental aspects of bull riding. Then finally he watched videotapes of bull riders.
He does it for one reason only.
"To ride in the Built Ford Tough Series," Four Colors said.
The 6-foot-1 Chippewa and Cree Native has been riding steers since he was nine. He started riding bulls three years ago and just turned pro. His father rode bulls too, but pleasing his mother has been difficult.
Four Colors said his mother fears for his safety but has realized it is what he wants.
"At first my mom wasn't (supportive) but she's come around," Four Colors said.
Despite the dangers of the sport, he is determined to succeed.
For 36-year-old veteran rider Greg Louis, the opportunity was just about the best in his career.
"It was kind of an honor," Louis said, "kind of a highlight in my career. Riding against the toughest riders and animals in the world. I really do feel honored that there was five of us (Native) riders."
In the first go-round, Louis rode for 2.8 seconds on Roughneck. On day two he rode for 3.4 seconds on Zorro. On the third day, he rode Derringer for 4.5 seconds.
Louis took note of the animals.
"As far as the animals and cowboys you're riding against, the animals are really outstanding," he said. "They are well taken care of. You could tell by riding and before looking at them. Those animals they get seen by a message therapist and get checked before they go out there."
Louis is no stranger to big events and shows like the Ty Murray Invitational. In 1986 at 16 years old, he was the youngest cowboy to qualify for the Indian National Finals in Albuquerque in the bull-riding event.
And since then he's been a two-time world champion and has held numerous other world titles.
Louis is affiliated with the Northern Cree tribe and ranches when he's not riding.
He said it was an honor to ride against some of the best in the business and to share it with his family.
"Just the highlight that I got to ride in a PBR," Louis said. "Another highlight was my two younger boys were with me, my older is riding against me and it was kind of a highlight."
For the local Navajo riders the event meant far more than words can explain.
Just ask Dennison Billy, better known as J.R. Billy.
A senior at Gallup High School, Billy calls Cortez, Colo., home.
He, too, couldn't explain how much it meant to ride in a PBR event.
"Got a call from the PBR office," Billy said. "I was pretty excited. It brightened me up a little."
Billy added that to be able to represent the Navajo Nation and people was an honor.
In the first go-round, Billy lasted 4.1 seconds on Too Sharp. On Saturday, he rode 2 seconds on Nasty Mike. And on his last ride, he rode for 2.4 seconds on E-Bay.
"It was pretty tough, I was pretty nervous," he said. "I was trying to give it all I got."
Billy said he started riding nine years ago at the age of nine, and if there's one thing he's learned it's that there are plenty of competitions in the future.
"I just love the sport," Billy said. "There's always another rodeo."
Ryan Bitsui, 27, has so far collected $2,740.40 in career earnings in the PBR.
In last weekend's competition, Bitsui rode for 2.9 seconds on Red Hot Money in the first go-round. On day two, Bitsui rode Holy Moly for 4.8 seconds. On day three, Bitsui could only manage 1.9 seconds on Itch and Scratch.
Bitsui was unavailable for comment.
Last but never least was Tyson "Spud" Jones.
The 20-year-old star from Tohatchi, N.M., who turned pro two years ago, said his career took a turn for the better when he started winning at age 15.
And to represent the Native American community, he said, "It feels good, it feels real good," Jones said. "I'm speechless."