Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated throughout to reflect current event dates and details. Iron Cowboy returns to AT&T Stadium on Feb. 24, 2018.
Ryan Dirteater doesn't claim to be the foremost scholar and authority on the cowboy lifestyle, but seeing as how he climbs atop a dirt-kicking, snot-snorting, 1,500 pound bull most weekends, we're officially granting him the title. The 27 year-old from Hulbert, Okla., has been on the Professional Bull Riders circuit for 12 years -- yes, you're doing that math correctly -- and he's good at it. Really good.
Dirteater got his start at just 9 years-old, and since then, he has attracted high-profile sponsors and has won over $1 million in career earnings. He's a member of the elite 90-Point Club, joining PBR legends who have scored at least 90 out of a perfect 100 points on a ride, and he even took home the top prize at the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, 40 high-ranking professional riders will battle it out against the "rankest bulls in the world" during Iron Cowboy at AT&T Stadium. Cowboys fight to make the 8-second buzzer, and those bucked off are eliminated. Competitors continue riding until just one remains and is declared the Iron Cowboy, according to PBR. [Dirteater won't be among them in 2018; he's out for several weeks due to a bad injury, he writes in a recent Instagram post.]
Even for those of us who grew up around rodeo, it's hard to imagine someone signing up for what Dirteater goes through on a weekly basis, much less making a living from it. We had to know, who is this guy? What makes him tick? With blinding reflections bouncing off his glimmering belt buckle and million dollar smile, Dirteater stopped by our offices to shine a little light on the inner workings of a professional bull rider.
Willie and Waylon told mamas to not let their babies grow up to be cowboys...
But, we're told you started bull riding at 9 years-old. How does a kid that young get started? Is it like with swimming, and they just tossed you in?
"No, my mamma is not happy about me being a bull rider," he says.
He's jumped the gun. That was our next question. Back to the question at hand, Dirteater says he grew up around the culture and was submersed in it for as long as he can remember. He's been riding professionally since he was a teenager, and it's gone well for him. He's earned sponsors and money -- a lot of it. When he won the world finals event in November, he he walked away from that tournament with $317,916.67.
Not bad for 8 seconds per ride. Well...
As for the coming weekend, it's nice to have a stop in Arlington, he says, because it's about a 5 hour drive for family and friends back home who are planning to come watch. His hometown has even put up a sign in his honor, and he's known professionally by the nickname "The Cherokee Kid," a hat tip to his Native American heritage.
So, to his point -- does his mama try to convince him to go into another field?
"She's like any good mama," he says. "She's worrying about me; if I get an injury or anything like that she's checking in on me, but she knows I'm a bull rider and that's who I am."
He's got his own theme song.
"We've got theme songs they play before our rides, and mine's 'Ridin' Dirty,' you know 'cause of my name, so you know when that one's playing to get ready."
But, there's a such thing as being "too pumped up," he says.
"Your adrenaline gets going, and you want to be ready and focused, but you want to be loose and relaxed," he adds. Having a clear head is key.
To keep a clear head, he stays in shape physically and mentally with little yoga.
"Bull riding is a mental sport; it's physical, but it's in your head, too," he says.
"I try to do things all week long to prepare for the weekend, so I'm at the gym for about an hour and a half three or four days a week. I do boot camp and P90x and a little yoga to help keep loose."
He laughs when we ask if he has a favorite yoga pose, as if it's a dumb question. Fair enough; he's here to talk rodeo. He kindly plays along and says he kind of likes doing the tree pose. Namaste.
We figured he'd know a thing or two about good cowboy music.
So, we asked his pick for Best Cowboy Song. That's a hard question when you're put on the spot. "Man, I don't know..." he says. "I like anything by George Strait. 'Amarillo By Morning' maybe."
What's his pick for Best Cowboy Movie?
"The Cowboy Way..." Dirteater says, referring to the 1994 comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland.
"We were downtown earlier with Dallas PD, and that made me think of it. Priefert [Manufacturing] donated 10 visor sets and nose guards to their police horses."
In the movie, Harrelson and Sutherland ride horses through and fight bad guys in New York City. Remember that one? (Heads up, this clip features a skosh of light profanity...)
Dirteater seems more like a beer guy. What does he drink?
"Beer's good. I like Blue Moon and Coors Light," he says. He adds that he likes trying something new whenever he goes out.
Say he's out at a festival or honky tonking, would he ever get on a mechanical bull?
He's got a bovine arch-nemesis. Make that several nemeses.
One thing that's unique about rodeo, as opposed to other sports, is that cowboys earn points, but so do the bulls. In a sense, they're competing against other cowboy athletes, plus their own internal monologue, time, physics and a very rowdy animal.
On Saturday, fans will see Dirteater take on High Test, a bull he brought down with 85.25 points during Round 1 of the World Finals event he won last November in Las Vegas.
"I rode him the first time I got on him, and it's time to do it again," he's quick to point out.
Consider that a little bit of trash talk to a worthy opponent: You're on notice, High Test.
Catch Ryan Dirteater as he battles it out for the title of Iron Cowboy on Feb. 24 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.