By TIM VANDENACK
CLINTON — Travis Mills had already been thinking about some sort of online means to hold bull competitions.
“Then the coronavirus came out,” he said, and conditions suddenly coalesced for his proposal, Out of the Chute Productions, to move forward.
Mills, a heavy equipment mechanic in Plymouth by day, also breeds and trains bucking bulls used in rodeos. Typically, the animals are showcased at regional competitions that draw breeders like him from all around the western United States. But sensing there had to be a different way to do it, he got to thinking, recruiting the help of tech-savvy friends, and devised a means to hold competitions virtually.
He originally envisioned holding his online competitions in the winter, allowing breeders to display their animals from home and thus avoid potentially treacherous travel to regional events. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, bringing bull competitions, like many other activities, to a halt, he put his plan into action. He’s held one competition, with more to come as part of his 2020 Digital Bucker Series, and thinks he’s on to something.
“I think it is the future of the industry,” said Mills, who breeds bulls out of a pasture in Clinton then hauls them to Plymouth, where they’re trained.
’BUILDING A RESUME’
The wild bucking bulls used in professional rodeos can’t be just any old animal. They are bred and trained to give bull riders a wild ride. That’s where bull competitions, used by breeders to show off their animals and the critters’ prowess, come in.
“This is where your professional bucking bulls come from,” the animals used in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Professional Bull Riders events, he said. PRCA and PBR contractors use such events — which Mills has helped organize — to find bulls for bull-riding events.
In a standard competition, breeders will travel to the competition site, bulls in tow, so they can showcase the animals. During the event, bulls are released one by one from a chute and the judges on hand observe, scoring each animal. They’re judged based on their ability to buck, kick and spin, their speed and their intensity.
Mills encourages bull breeders to keep competing in live events. “We need that. That’s the heart of rodeo,” he said in a video on the Out of the Chute Productions Facebook page.
But with Out of the Chute Productions, or OOTCP, he aims to create an alternative, giving breeders yet another means to show off their animals. Under his revamped virtual scheme, the animals stay home and their owners, instead, take video of the animals coming out of a chute, doing their thing. OOTCP gathers the video from the varied competitors and organizes it into a single long video so each bull can be subsequently appraised by judges, who score from their remote locations.
“OOTCP will produce a live digital event to showcase all the entrants. Participants, viewers and judges will see the show live for the first time together,” reads the OOTCP website. “World-class judges will score each animal in real time, and participants and viewers can watch the scoreboard populate live.”
Thus, breeders get a way to show off their bulls without the cost involved of traveling to a competition. Moreover, there’s a video history that displays the animals’ prowess that PRCA and PBR contractors can review. “We’re building a resume for them,” Mills said.
Another benefit of Mills’ format: Competitors can potentially get more prize money. There’s no overhead, or at least lower overhead with an online operation, so more money can be paid out to competitors in the form of winnings.