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story.lead_photo.caption Kasey Hayes holds on as the bull Rio Grande tries to throw him off. Hayes is part of the Professional Bull Riders Velocity Tour coming to Verizon Arena Saturday.

It’s an unpredictable whirlwind of flying dirt, cheering fans and human beings going up against creatures that are about 1,500 pounds of solid muscle.

Bull riding isn’t for the squeamish.

“You’ve got to love riding bulls to make it your profession and make a living doing it,” rider Kasey Hayes of the Professional Bull Riders tour says. “It’s not for the faint of heart. You can’t just get on bulls for a hobby.”

That passion started for Hayes in early childhood, watching the riders at the local rodeo. He rode his first bull at the age of 9: “I never grew out of that stage.”

When the Professional Bull Riders come to town, they put on a full show with pyrotechnics, a wide range of music - from rock ’n’ roll to rap - and even comedians.

But the real highlight is watching men try to hang on as massive bulls do their best to send them flying to the dirt floor.

Hayes points out that it’s not a daredevil act of recklessness. There’s plenty of skill involved.

“We are professional athletes,” he says. “We train to do this. It’s not like we’re just some idiots out there getting on bulls because we’re thrill-seekers. There’s a certain way to ride bulls.”

Not that their safety is guaranteed. Even when doing it correctly, injuries are a given. Hayes has had a broken leg and a broken vertebrae. At age 12, his face was broken when his head and a bull’s collided. Since then, he has worn a face mask.

“It’s not if you get hurt,” he says, “it’s when and how.”

Yet he and his fellow riders keep getting back on the bull because they love it.

It’s what he calls the “wow factor,” going up against some of the fastest, strongest animals around and never knowing what’s going to happen when they come out of the chute. For fans, it’s the vicarious thrill of watching the battle of man versus beast.

Though, outside the arena, the animals are not as wild as they seem.

“These animals are our pride and joy,” Hayes says, pointing out that he owns a prized bull that is pampered with top feed, trailers and pens. “We want them to have the best life possible. These bucking animals really have it made.”

When they’re in their feeding pens, many of them are downright docile, enjoying some petting and even tolerating children being plopped on their backs. It’s in the bucking chute that they really come alive.

“They know the deal,” Hayes says. “They want to buck.

“It’s their sport and they love it.”

The Professional Bull Riders Velocity Tour 8 p.m. Saturday Verizon Arena, North Little Rock Tickets: $12.50-$52.50 plus service charges, $2 more the day of the show (800) 745-3000

Weekend, Pages 35 on 01/30/2014

Print Headline: Man vs. beast will whirl up the dust at arena Saturday


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