NEW LONDON — At 67 pounds and not quite 4-feet tall, 10-year-old Hudson Cihler is all business as he straps on his chaps, zips up his Kevlar vest, cinches up a belt with a massive silver buckle and slaps a cowboy hat on his head.
“He’s always been a little daredevil,” said his mom, Caity Cihler.
As proof of that daredevil spirit, the New London-Spicer fifth grader will be competing in the world finals of the International Miniature Bullriders Association event Dec. 5-8 in Las Vegas.
The invitation to compete in the prestigious event, which draws about 300 kids ages 6-16 and is held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo, is a “dream come true,” said Caity. “It’s just a whirlwind for us.”
Hudson, a shy and quiet kid who somehow commands a swagger when he changes from his school clothes into his rodeo clothes, got his start in the world of rodeo by riding a sheep for the competition-winning duration of six seconds..
During a summertime “mutton busting” event a couple years ago Hudson didn’t fall off and didn’t want to let go.
“It’s like he was hooked from day one,” said Caity.
When they eventually pulled him off the sheep, Caity said her son told her, “That was fun, but boring. What’s next.”
What came next was a series of calf-riding competitions at Minnesota ranches and trips to Iowa where he was introduced to miniature bull riding. Mini bulls — which typically weigh 700-1,200 pounds — are are a small specialty breed of livestock commonly used for youth bull riding competitions, serving as a training ground for riding the big bulls.
Like all bull riders, Hudson has a set of gear he brings to the rodeo, including a protective Kevlar vest, a hockey-style helmet that replaces his cowboy hat during the ride and his own rope and bell.
When asked about the trick for staying on a bull for the full eight seconds Hudson said simply, “Toes out and squeeze your knees.”
Putting the right amount of rosin on his rope is another key factor. Hudson likes to use a lot of rosin.
He explained that the weight of the bell pulls the rope off the bull when the ride is over.
Because Minnesota isn’t well-known for bull riding, this summer Hudson, his mom and three siblings traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to work with a rodeo professional there who provided some tips and bull riding experience for Hudson.
“Down in Texas there’s bull riding everywhere,” said Caity. “They have cowboy church so you literally ride little bulls at church or behind the church.”
With limited opportunities for training on real mini bulls here, Hudson’s training at home includes staying in shape by participating in school sports, including wrestling, baseball and football, said Caity.
A homemade “drop barrel” that’s a 50-gallon drum on a teeter-totter of sorts, helps provide Hudson with some balance training.
During the summer the family travels to rodeos nearly every week to towns throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa where Hudson competes.
“It’s a lot of traveling, but I see it no different than any other sport that people do — hockey, golf, baseball,” said Caity.
Along the way, Hudson has gotten the attention — and earned the friendship — of adult professional bull riders who apparently like the spunk they see, and have taken him under their wings.
“All these adult bull riders look at Hudson, and they know he’s out there to ride his heart out,” said Caity.
“It means a lot to him, knowing there’re people out there that see a true bull rider in him,” she said. “He has a severe passion for it. Because you have to be half-crazy to do this.”
While it can be “nerve-racking” to watch the competition, Caity said Hudson hasn’t been seriously hurt — yet. She said she’s more nervous watching him play other sports, like baseball and football.
The qualifying mini bull riding competitions Hudson has notched in his belt, and the connections with pros he’d made, helped him earn a place in the International Miniature Bullriders Association world finals next month.
Other than getting some new western shirts and chaps for the event, Hudson is taking the big-time competition in stride.
“He’s a very humble kid,” said Caity. “Whether he wins or loses, or doesn’t ride the best, he’s never throwing a fit or showboating. You’ve got to have bad rides to get to the good rides.”
The mini bull riding will be televised on Ride TV.