A cultural tradition – no bull

A bull peers out from its enclosure before the bull riding event Sunday.

Jaripeos, or American-style bull riding, is displayed at Morgan
Hill’s Rancho Grande
Morgan Hill

Vibrantly dressed families sat shoulder to shoulder in the sun-drenched arena, huddling below a tin awning that provided the afternoon’s only shade. A Sinaloa troupe named Banda Rio Verde delighted the crowd with foot-stomping beats while an elegant emcee belted out Spanish quips over the loudspeaker. As she welcomed the crowd, ominous one-ton animals with names like El Chupacabra (which translated in English means “goat sucker”), Noches Negro (“black night”) and Hells Angel stirred in steel paddocks.

“Buenos dias!” the emcee crooned, drawing heavy applause.

It was another pageantry-filled Sunday of jaripeos at Morgan Hill’s Rancho Grande. Jaripeos is American-style bull riding and a timeless tradition of Hispanic culture.

While the festivities echoed above, Derrol Schupe, one of the main attractions, paced the rodeo floor listening to AC/DC on his iPod.

“I never think of the crowd,” the 22-year-old veteran rider said. “When you’re out here, it’s all about riding.”

Schupe was one of 19 riders to take the muddy center stage. The Gilroy native was fine-tuning for his October Professional Bull Riders debut in Las Vegas. Many of Schupe’s competitors hailed from foreign regions – Guerrero and Oaxaca, Mexico, and parts of Guatemala. A cash pot of about $900 went to the top rider, Caleb Johnson, who was the only competitive rider to make eight seconds.

“You have to last that long to score,” said Schupe’s best friend, Austin Whitmore, who happened to be one of the judges during the event that drew more than 1,000 spectators to the Condit Road ranch. “As a judge, you score based on both the rider and the bull. The ideal bull is one that jumps high and spins fast – a high spinner. Those are the ones that score the best.”

Schupe drew Hairy, a 2,200-pound behemoth with a cappuccino-colored hide and plenty of professional experience. Hairy’s riders average scores of 91 out of 100.

“If Derrol can make eight (seconds,) he’ll win hands down,” Whitmore said.

Schupe’s ride lasted about three seconds. He exploded from the chute atop Hairy with a firm grip but out-of-place legging. Schupe threw his ivory white 10-gallon hat down in frustration after being bucked off.

“My feet felt out of place, and I was too high up,” Schupe said. “I needed to be lower with my hips farther back.”

After several more short-lived rides, Johnson, 14, stole the show.

“I was telling myself, ‘Don’t let go,'” Johnson said. “I didn’t think I made it because I let go before the buzzer went off. But the judges said I made eight (seconds). I was pretty happy.”

“Wild” Bill Lyle, who co-owns The Thrill of Morgan Hill – a company that provided Sunday’s livestock – was the first to congratulate Johnson.

From stock tender to bullfighter, or rodeo clown, Lyle has been a part of this dangerous sport his whole life. Safety is his chief concern. Earlier this year, one of his friends was killed while bullfighting.

“It’s a stressful job, unfortunately,” Lyle said. “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, riding horses and bulls … I’ve learned you can never be too careful.”

Lyle’s bullfighters kept their distance from the animals Sunday but had little trouble enticing them to and from the ring.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions when you think of bullfighters or clowns,” Whitmore said. “Their job is to just stay back and keep the bull’s attention.

“You have some of the best in the business here: experienced bulls and experienced fighters.”

Bull riding is just part of the show every other weekend at Rancho Grande. To many, jaripeos is a sideshow to the live music afterward. Sunday’s featured artist was pop singer Diana Reyes.

“The kids like the bull riding, but we come for the music,” said Juana Maldonado, who was in attendance along with her husband and two sons. “I’m from Oaxaca, and I always went to these with my family growing up. It’s a tradition.”

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