GRANVILLE, Ill. — Inspired to compete in bull riding events at rodeos from his dad, Hunter Sale proudly wears the champion belt buckle.
“I got started bull riding because my dad use to do it,” said Hunter, 13.
“When I first got on I was fine and the second time I was throwing a fit because I was scared,” he said. “But I kept riding and got better and better, so it’s fun now.”
“Hunter is the junior boys bull-riding champion for two years in a row for the Illinois Little Britches Rodeo,” said his dad, James Sale. “This is his last year in the 9- to 13-year-old boys group and then he will go to senior bulls.”
Hunter started competing in rodeos when he was 3 years old.
“He started riding sheep and won a buckle,” James said. “And just before his ninth birthday he started riding miniature bulls.”
“I like the challenge to stay on top,” Hunter said. “When we get to rodeos I get to hang out with my friends and we talk about the PBR.”
The goal when riding bulls, Hunter said, is to stay in the center of the bull.
“You need to squeeze with your legs to keep your balance and once you start to fall, shuffle your hips and keep your feet in,” he explained.
“When I get in the chute, I sit down on the bull and burn my rope to get it sticky,” he said. “I hang onto the block, they pull on the tail of my rope, I put it in my hand, slide up on my rope, nod my head and they open the gate.”
Hunter wears chaps, a Kevlar vest and helmet when riding bulls.
“I rode with a cowboy hat,” James said. “I tried riding with a helmet but hated it, but I’m glad he’s learning with a helmet.”
The young bull rider has won money and buckles at rodeo events.
“His first check was $12 and he thought he was rich,” James said.
Hunter practices riding bulls at a facility near Grand Ridge.
“They have a practice pen and they give kids a chance to try riding bulls to see if they like it,” James said. “They let you borrow gear and they have some real easy bulls.”
Professional bull rider Jake Morinec was at the practice pen recently to work with the young bull riders.
“He gave Hunter some pointers,” James said.
In addition to Illinois Little Britches events, Hunter has also competed in the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association and traveled to several events throughout Illinois including DuQuoin, Monticello, Rochelle and Delavan.
“Some weekends we have three rodeos,” James said.
James takes a video of all Hunter’s bull rides.
“During car rides, I like to watch the videos to see what I did wrong,” Hunter said.
“Next year, I’m looking forward to getting into roping events and chute dogging,” he said.
James went to rodeo school in Texas and rode bulls for nine years.
“I got started riding when I was 19,” he said. “There wasn’t as much youth stuff then as there is now.”
When he lived in Louisiana, James rode two to four bulls every weekend between the practice pens and rodeos.
“When I came back to Illinois, I competed in local fairs and then retired in 2015,” he said.
Hunter’s goal is to be in the Professional Bull Riders.
“I want to ride in the PBR some day and it would be cool to be world champion,” he said. “I also want to have a practice pen for kids to bring more youth into the sport.”