Manatee County Fairgrounds host bull riding finals

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 1, 2013 

BRADENTON

Chris "Weasel" Forrest's idea of a fun Friday night?

Picture this.

Over yonder is a big, bad bull, one ton of ornery that's thrown its rider and is fixing to stomp the prone cowboy into the dirt at the Manatee County Fairgrounds' Mosaic Arena.

Charging to the rescue is Forrest, a bull fighter who's all of 5 feet 6, 135 pounds, flying around in size 44 cutoff baggies, American flag bandanas flapping in the fray.

Working in tandem with another bull fighter, he'll grab one of the bull's horns.

Or slap a hand on its snout.

Even sit on the beast's head.

"I've got to do whatever it takes to protect the rider," said Forrest, 36. "You don't think about it when you're out there. You've got that adrenalin going. You're in the moment. It's not a matter of if you're going to get hit, hooked or whatever. It's when. You go in knowing that."

A professional bull fighter practically since he graduated from Southeast High School in 1995, Forrest will demonstrate his art at this weekend's Conley Buick GMC Southern States Bull Riding Finals.

"The sport used to have rodeo clowns to protect riders, but they were making as much and more being pure entertainment," he said. "So we're the guys who actually protect riders."

Forrest has been voted by the top bull riders in the SSBR and several other associations to more finals than any other bull fighter in the Southeast 17 years running.

It's a rare accomplishment in a dangerous sport.

"The average bull fighter is lucky to be five years at the top of his game," said Byron McIntosh, president of SSBR which covers seven states. "It takes intelligence and a lot of athletic ability. It's not about jumping into the arena and acting crazy as much as people think."

Amen, Forrest said.

"Me, crazy? I'm not the one on back of one of those bulls," said the longtime Saint Stephen's School maintenance worker. "I'm already on the ground running."

It was Forrest's elusiveness that earned him his distinctive nickname from Don French, then Southeast's freshman football coach.

"It was because of his size, his sneakiness, his speed and his fearlessness," said the Braden River High School assistant principal. "When I heard he'd become a bull fighter, I said that's 'Weasel.'"

Forrest had friends who had competed in Florida high school rodeo when one invited him to try bull fighting.

"It sounded awesome," he said. "Sure enough, when a bull came at me, I made a move and juked him. Man, you want to talk about a rush. I was hooked."

His mother, a Saint Stephen's receptionist, had her druthers.

"I just want to be sure he comes home in one piece," Helen Forrest said.

It's not easy when you're bull fighting two, three weekends every month.

Forrest has endured his share of injuries -- i.e., broken ribs, collapsed lung, cracked collarbone, broken forearms, facial contusions.

"People go to NASCAR to see wrecks," he said. "In bull riding you get to see a wreck every eight seconds."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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