Midwest turns Wild West : Bull riding for the whole family

In northwestern Ohio where the land is flat, flat, flat and family farms dot the landscape in a scene of bucolic sedateness, the Midwest turns wild west on Saturday nights from October through May. Off State Rte 29, between the Indiana border and Celina, a town with a population of 10,000, is Mack Arena, a non-descriptive rectangular building that one might blow right pass without noticing. Only the white corral-style fencing around one end of the building says animals. Looks can be deceiving. Inside, excitement and a dose of danger crackles. Who knew?

The clues to the wildness inside the industrial corrugate structure start at the dirt parking lot where a pungent odor of animals and leather waft over the assortment of pickup trucks, trailers and cars that gather here every Saturday evening. The announcer’s voice can be heard over the crowd’s din of shouts of encouragement and awe.

The yellow sign near the door touting, “Beware of Bull” is more of a welcome mat than a warning, however.

That’s what Gadling found out a few weeks ago when we came upon the bull riding as an unexpected pleasure of Saturday night’s entertainment–just two hours from Columbus. The allure of the wild west in the Midwest pulled our station wagon into the mix of vehicles.

Although the bull-riding is rough and tumble, the crowd is not. This is family fun where kids are free to hang off fences close to the bull pen for a better look, and any one who wants to give riding a bull a try can plop down money for a go at it.


Cowboy hats and jeans, of course, are part of the scenery.

First, though, comes the professionals who know how to ride these massively muscled beasts. Riding a bull is not a matter of just getting on and letting the gates fly open.

There’s a slew of fussing and positioning in the narrow chute where handlers keep the bull still, the gate closed, and help the rider settle onto the bull’s back.

Then when the rider signals ready with a raise of his hand, the gate is pulled open and whoosh!–out of the chute the bull and rider come for a rollicking, very fast ride.

For a few seconds, dust flies in a whirlwind accompanied by whooping and hollering in a rush of excitement. Once the bull rids itself of the rider, there’s a rush to get the rider out of the way while the announcer calls out the time.

Then the next bull and rider are made ready for their turn in the arena.

The crowd, a mix of people of all ages from grandparents to babies in carriers, visit with each other in between rounds. And, at the end, about 10 p.m., they file out of the building and into their vehicles to pull out of the parking lot into the calm night until next Saturday when the excitement calls them back.

The nuts and bolts of bull riding if you want to give it a go:

  • Jackpot riders (experts) $45
  • Novice riders–$25
  • Practice rides–$15
  • Riders must be 18 or over, although parents can sign a release for younger kids.

Our son rode a sheep as part of the evening’s entertainment. Alas, no photo. He was a hit though since his riding style was to lay along the back of the sheep with his legs hanging over the rump.

By the way, the arena is heated and you can bring in your own coolers. Admission is reasonable.

[all photos by Jamie Rhein]