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Miniature stock, maximum heart

Ranching roots run deep for young bull rider

VALLEY VIEW — A ranch kid, Payton Fitzpatrick cleans stalls at his parents’ barn, deftly forking horse manure into a wheelbarrow while simultaneously talking about his interest in bull riding.

He’s a talented bull rider, too. In November, Fitzpatrick placed second in the third annual Northwestern Miniature Bull Riding Finals in Helena after winning the Montana State Miniature Bull Riding in Ronan.

A freshman at Polson High School, Fitzpatrick, 14, said he grew up watching the famous bucking bull Bodacious on TV. The cream-colored, Charolais/ Brahma cross bull terrorized cowboys during the early ’90s, either flinging them into the arena dirt and/or smashing facial bones or giving them the score of their lives. Bodacious was ridden by only six bull riders on 135 trips out of the chute.

“My dad (Brett Fitzpatrick) used to ride bulls for a while,” Fitzpatrick said, so that also spurred his interest in the sport.

“I never took it (bull riding) real serious until I was 10,” Fitzpatrick explained.

Fitzpatrick said he learned a lot about bull riding the last couple of years when he attended the Rodeo Bible Camp held at the Polson Fairgrounds during early June. Dan Porter and Steve Balgeman instructed the campers on bull riding, although the kids rode steers not miniature bulls. 

Fitzpatrick said he thinks miniature bull riding is “real good for younger guys,” to get ‘em used to riding bulls. Steers, according to Fitzpatrick, don’t quite have the power or strength in their buck that miniature bulls do. Fitzgerald’s younger brother, Grey, 11, also attended the Rodeo Bible Camps and rides miniature bulls. 

Miniature bull riding features bulls that are smaller to fit their young bull riders. On their website for Rocky Mountain Mini Buckers, Ty and Tonia O'Hern, St. Ignatius, said their bulls range from 39 inches to 47 inches in height. Kids ages 9 to 14 who weigh 125 pounds or less can compete in miniature bull riding. 

“It’s (bull riding) an experience like no other,” Fitzpatrick explained.

Fitzpatrick has one more year of eligibility for miniature bull riding, and he also is really wanting to high school rodeo in the spring.

“I’m edging my dad to let me ride those bigger bulls,” Fitzpatrick said. 

But his dad is hesitant, Fitzpatrick said, since he got hit in the face by a bull and hurt pretty bad back in 1990 or 1991. 

“My major’s not football,” Fitzpatrick said, “I don’t know what else I’d do.”

This winter Fitzpatrick will try to get all the practice in he can, either on his dad’s bucking barrel set up in the barn, on a mechanical bull or the occasional live bull or heifer they buck out in their barn or at the neighbors' place. 

Fitzgerald said school’s pretty cool, especially his shop class. Fitzgerald has quite the daily schedule, too. 

He’s up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus at 6:56 a.m. to go to school. The same bus delivers Fitzpatrick home at 4 p.m. every afternoon. Then he cleans stalls, feeds the horses, checks his traps (he’s trapping coyotes and other varmints), gathers the eggs for his grandparents, works out on his home gym, eats dinner and does his homework.

Fitzpatrick said he didn’t miss a night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) televised from Dec. 3-12, 2009, from Las Vegas, Nev., although Professional Bull Riding (PBR) is his favorite. 

“It’s a money making deal,” Fitzgerald said, since lots of time people only want to watch the bull riding anyway.

Since Fitzgerald read about Jesse Kruse, the Great Falls cowboy who won the saddle bronc riding buckle at the NFR, in the Professional Sports News, he thought he might try to ride bucking horses, saddle broncs particularly, although his dad also rode bareback broncs. Other reading includes a biography of Ty Murray, seven-time world champion all around cowboy.   

As far as longer term plans, such as college, Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t have the college concept yet but, “I think I might go to college.”

In the meantime, look for Fitzpatrick’s name in the newspaper whenever there’s a rodeo in town.    

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