You don’t need much inside knowledge about the sport of bull riding to know that Bushwacker is something special.
This is an animal athlete with swagger. And when a cowboy climbs aboard, he jumps, kicks and spins with such spry athleticism that it’s easy to forget he weighs a whopping 1,700-plus lbs.
In 64 outs on the Professional Bull Riders’ Built Ford Tough Series, he’s been ridden exactly twice. The other 62 times, Bushwacker bucked his rider off in less than the required eight seconds – often with jaw-dropping panache. The two-time world champion bull is one of the best (some say the best) the sport has ever seen. And this Thursday and Sunday, he’ll buck two final times at the PBR World Finals.
What makes Bushwacker so phenomenal? We spoke to three of the men who know him best, and, in honor of those pivotal eight seconds in bull riding, compiled eight things to know about Bushwacker before his career wraps up Sunday. (He’ll live out his days eating and making babies, FYI.)
1. He’s Got Brains
Defending PBR world champion J.B. Mauney got on Bushwacker 12 times before he was able to ride him for the full eight seconds needed for a score. While many bulls settle into patterns (spinning in one direction or leaping out into the arena before turning), this bull likes to keep things interesting. “He’s smart,” Mauney tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been on him 13 times and he’s never done the same thing twice.” Adds former world champion and co-founder of the PBR, Ty Murray, “A lot of bulls understand the game but Bushwacker is a master at always figuring out the guy’s weakness. He bucks completely off of feel for the rider.”
2. And Brawn
“He’s big, strong, and a lot more athletic than other bulls his size,” says Mauney. Bushwacker, who was named ESPN magazine’s Baddest Bodies in Sports in 2013, “is muscular, very quick and, athletically, he can do amazing things: how high he jumps and how hard he breaks over and kicks,” says Murray. “When you look at a great athlete in any sport, whether it be Michael Jordan or Emmitt Smith or Peyton Manning, there’s not one thing that you can say that encapsulates why they’re so great. It’s really the same thing for Bushwacker. It’s a combination of a lot of things that came together. He has everything going for him.”
3. He Seems to Dig His Job
Bushwacker’s stock contractor, Julio Moreno, is in charge of the bull’s care (among the priorities: specialized grain and supplements, plus room to run around at home) and transports him to the events. Whenever they leave the ranch, says Moreno, Bushwacker knows what’s coming. “When you back your rig up, he’s waiting for you to open the gate and he’ll run in the trailer. He loves that part,” says Moreno, adding of the end of Bushwacker’s competitive days: “I think he’ll miss it.” Murray agrees: “I think Bushwacker enjoys his job. I’m an animal lover, so if I were in a sport where I felt like he animals dreaded it, it would take out the enjoyment for me. I don’t think they’re harmed or experiencing pain in any way.”
4. He’s Also Into Cameras
Bushwacker likes people and even knows when a lens is pointed his way, mooing on command. “It’s like how a weight lifter will flex his muscles. If there’s a camera, that’s what he does,” says Moreno. Murray concurs that the bull has “a very cool personality.” On one video shoot, Bushwacker picked up an entire flake of hay with his mouth and tossed it in the air, “like LeBron James does with the chalk,” recalls Murray. “He’s a ham for the camera.”
5. He Got the Bull Rider Fans to Root for Him
“The fans are starting to like the bulls a lot more,” says Mauney. “When they introduce him at an event, he gets just as loud applause, if not louder, than some of the bull riders.” Murray calls Bushwacker “our biggest star” in the PBR and says that even he has to cheer for Bushwacker to end his career on top. “I find myself rooting for Bushwacker to have a perfect final season,” says Murray of the bull’s buckoff count. “And sometimes I’m watching really good friends of mine get on him!”
6. He’s Fair to the Cowboys
The chutes are considered one of the most dangerous places to be in bull riding – closely surrounded by steel gates, a cowboy is particularly vulnerable if his bull gets excited. But that’s not a concern with Bushwacker. “He’s very fair. He stands in the middle of the chute like a soldier,” says Murray. “He gives the guys every opportunity to leave the chute the way they want to. He’s not a mean bull. He’s not trying to hurt anyone.”
7. He’s Happy on the Road
After running aboard the trailer, Bushwacker “will go to his compartment and wait for you to close the gate,” says Moreno. “Bushwacker’s not high strung at all – he relaxes on the road. He relaxes until the gate opens!” adds Murray. “It sounds like a joke, but it’s an important trait. It’s also an important trait for race horses.”
8. His Legacy Will Live On
Will there ever be another bull this great? Jokes defending PBR champ Mauney: “Hopefully I’ll be retired by the time another one like him comes around!” And they are coming. Says Moreno of Bushwacker, “Next spring, he’ll have 20-some girlfriends. That’s his reward.” A well-earned one, at that. Cody Lambert, the PBR’s director of livestock, refers to Bushwacker as the greatest bull of all time. Bucking bulls can live to be over 15 years old, adds Moreno, so his 8-year-old has plenty of retirement years ahead of him. But first, he’ll compete one last time at the finals. “It’ll be kind of bittersweet,” says Mauney. “You’ll see a champion in his own right.”
The PBR World Finals will air live from Las Vegas on CBS Sports Network Wednesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. ET and Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.