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Meet the Black bull rider bucking the system

Texas

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 1/4/2019, 10:59 a.m.
To become a bull rider, of course one needs a bucking bull...
Esekial Mitchell

To become a bull rider, of course one needs a bucking bull. But all Ezekiel Mitchell had was YouTube and his imagination, reports the New York Post.

“I didn’t come from a rodeo family,” the 21-year-old Texan told the Post. “My dad took me to them and I was always interested, but I didn’t have anyone to show me how. We didn’t have money to send me to rodeo school.” So, at 14, he went online and studied “how to” videos made by former Professional Bull Riders (PBR) star Dustin Elliott. To practice, Mitchell hung a makeshift bucking barrel from a tree. A neighbor later helped him weld a metal bull together using a car suspension.

When he finally rode the real thing at 16, the former football player was hooked. He decided he cared more about becoming a real cowboy, not a gridiron one, and ditched football. “My parents said I was just going to throw it all away,” says Mitchell, who’s one of 11 children. “I said, ‘I am pretty sure this is what I want to do.’ ”

His gamble paid off. After winning his first career PBR event in November, Mitchell will walk into Madison Square Garden this weekend as the No. 2 rider in the world. “There’s $100,000 up for grabs, so it will be pretty cool,” says Mitchell, who’ll compete with 34 other riders in the PBR: Unleash the Beast tour. He also holds the distinction of being the lone African-American rider at the sport’s elite level.

“I get a lot of messages from different people saying it’s cool to see someone who doesn’t look like the norm doing something they want to do and actually succeeding,” says Mitchell, who believes his success could broaden the sport’s audience. “It would be cool just to be somebody that people can look up to, or aspire to be like,” adds Mitchell, who has an associate’s degree in welding and is working toward another in agriculture business from Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas. “I’d like to be that person who changes things, but for everybody, not just African-Americans. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what means you have. Just as long as you get there.” Even if you learned it off the Internet.

Mitchell recently met Elliott, his online tutor, at a college riding event, and was able to pick his brain in person. “I told him, ‘You pretty much taught me how to ride bulls,’ and he said, ‘You taught yourself.’ ” Before he mounts the bull, Mitchell will run through his pre-rodeo ritual. He’ll say a prayer and adjust his collar. “I always have to make sure my collar is outside of my vest,” he says. “It can’t be tucked in and look bad.” But his main focus will be on the bull. “Riding takes something that is out of your control, and you have to try to control it,” he says. “An animal has a mind of its own. It’s all reaction.”