Going Buck Wild: New Yorkers Bullish on Rodeo Riders

John Legend and Chrissy Teigen (Getty).

John Legend and Chrissy Teigen (Getty).

Every year, after being inundated by the various social responsibilities of the holiday season as well as various boisterous New Year’s soirées, the city’s movers and shakers take a perennial pause. Jet-setters dash off to the Caribbean, fashion mavens begin migrating to Milan and Paris, and socialites take to the slopes of Deer Valley and Aspen. Shindigger, your genteel stalwart, was in search of VIP action last week, but immediate options were scarce. That is, until we received a welcome “howdy” to partake in the Professional Bull Riders’ VIP schedule of events. Was Shindigger ready to exchange hefty pours of Veuve Clicquot for Pabst Blue Ribbon? Why the hell not?

On January 4, outfitted in our finest Western attire, we trotted into a clandestine palatial lounge space in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. (Yes—Shindigger does own a cowboy hat and some flannel for times such as these.) This was the Professional Bull Riders’ opening night VIP reception, hosted by model Chrissy Teigen. Top-ranked bull riders L.J. Jenkins and J.B. Mauney and NASCAR star Kyle Busch—ever the rebel, he uses his full name as opposed to rodeo-friendly initials—also made brief appearances at the opening festivities. 

“I don’t ride!” Ms. Teigen told Shindigger, cabernet in hand, outside one of the executive salons. “I’ve been to rodeos, but I’ve never seen a bull ride ever in my life, and now we’re up and close and center—I’m freaking out!” Impressive enthusiasm for a Utah native.

This evening, the waifish brunette looked delectable in one of Isabel Marant’s black fringe suede jackets. “She went Midwestern last season,” the model gushed. “Finally a reason to wear it!”

We wanted to know how this rustic experience differed from her usual outings.

“I feel like everyone pulled their cowboy hats from the top of their closets, dusted them off and put them on for tonight,” she answered graciously with a laugh.

Her fiancé John Legend kept a low profile, preferring to hide in the shadows of a colossal sports trophy. Shindigger even saw one attendee point and yell, “Is that Usher?” Oh dear.

“I asked him to come,” said Ms. Teigen of her skittish companion. “He’s a little jet-lagged. We were in Tokyo right before this.” The couple had spent Christmas in Japan before flying to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve festivities.

“Hopefully the bulls will kick him in the face and he’ll wake up a bit,” she said, sotto voce.

It’s always satisfying when the hostess enjoys an event, and Ms. Teigen expressed sincere pleasure. Especially with the heavy buffet swarming with bull riders’ entourages, cowboys and the occasional scantily-clad cowgirl seductress promoting some product.

Guests were asked to proceed into the stadium, and Ms. Teigen said she was excited to witness the live action, but feared for the bull riders’ crown jewels. “It’s violent for their junk,” she blurted with a chuckle. “I mean, it gets penetrated back inside of them!”

Shindigger and crew meandered to our seats for the gladiatorial spectacle, which kicked off with gunpowder explosions, fireworks, confetti cannons, flames and a Christian blessing for each rider. An interesting start indeed. We guzzled our drinks and dutifully replenished them before the first ride. A good thing too, as we were not prepared for the nail-biting drama: enormous bulls bucked and raged in the massive dirt area, jolting and flinging the adorable but no doubt soon-to-be-toothless riders like flimsy pieces of cardboard—over and over again.

The triumphant ones rode for the required time of eight seconds before hurling themselves off—as gracefully as possible—and sneaking out of harm’s way. The unfortunate few were dislodged violently and dashed quick as lightning to avoid being trampled, sometimes unsuccessfully. It was both exhilarating and horrifying all at once, like one’s first Internet dating experience.

That night, sinewy ectomorph J.B. Mauney rode the bull “Unpredictable” for 88.50 points in front of 15,811 fans (but who was counting?) to win round two and move into the lead. Afterward, we hunted Mr. Mauney down to hear about his experience.

“It was pretty cool—seeing those type of people at a thing like that,” he told Shindigger, referring to the reception, where he posed with Ms. Teigen and Mr. Legend. “When we come here, people don’t really know about bull riding, but they are all about it. It’s fun being around this atmosphere.”

Despite enjoying the fanfare of the city, Mr. Mauney confessed that it’s not exactly for him. “I like being at home. I gotta have wide-open spaces,” he said in a hunky North Carolinian drawl. “It’s important to show people who have never even laid eyes on bull riding how much fun it can be to watch and follow, and what kind of sport it is. You have to kind of open people’s eyes to it.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Mauney lost in the end to Robson Palermo, who rode “Whitewater Trouble” for 90 points on Sunday afternoon to win the Championship Round with 261.50 points total. Mr. Mauney and Aaron Roy tied for second place with 260.50 points. (Truth be told, on the several nights Shindigger nestled into a box at MSG, we were clueless about the point system, fixating instead on the numbers on the riders’ future chiropractic bills.)

Professional Bull Riders Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Haworth enthused over the event, which kicked off bull riding season at Madison Square Garden.“This crowd that’s here in New York City, they really embrace bull riding!” the brawny executive raved in his Oklahoma twang. “They were pumped up both nights. That encourages our riders to ride better. This really has started our season with a big bang!”

Easy for you to say, Shindigger thought—you’re not the guy being impaled by a bull horn.

blehay@observer.com

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