Cabarrus

Arena owner Stan Stegall knows his bull

What if your job required you to work only eight to 16 seconds a week?

The rest of the time, your supervisors didn't mind if you stood around and talked bull with your coworkers. In fact, they would even provide you lunch while you did.

Sound like a dream job?

Maybe I should mention those eight to 16 seconds would begin when a complete stranger jumps on your back and holds tight in front of a crowd of hundreds of cheering onlookers.

And the food, although free and nutritious, would be a blend of high-protein, high-fat performance feed.

But it would make you feel like a million bucks, which is exactly what Stan Stegall, 53, wants from his bull.

For the last 18 years, Stegall's Arena has been the go-to place for suburbanites to watch bull riders chute out of the panel, one hand clutching 1,800 pounds of annoyed animal, the other swinging in the air for balance. All in the hopes of staying on for eight seconds, the time it takes to be judged.

For years, cowboys from Michigan to California have traveled to Cabarrus County between April and October to climb into the ring with one of Stegall's bulls.

The likes of Bad Bob, Twister, Gunsmoke, Eight Ball, Mighty Mouse and Chisholm have all tossed more than their share of riders in the arena that at times, has swelled to 1,400 spectators.

Winners walk away with a purse of up to $1,000, a heavy-weighted belt buckle engraved with their names, and of course, a little glory.

Now, in the off-season, the arena stands empty. The perfectly level dirt floor holds not a single hoof mark, knocked-out tooth, or peanut shell.

But Stegall is just as busy. Keeping bulls fit and in top-notch health is a year-round job. Besides the 10 pounds of grain and all the hay he can eat, a bull can easily drink up to 20 gallons of water a day. Old cast-iron bathtubs in the bullpens stay replenished from a nearby creek.

Stegall has had years of experience in finding the kind of bulls that become crowd pleasers: those that buck, kick and spin right out of the chute.

It's not something that can be taught, he explains, as he sits inside a rustic shack on his property that, with its wood barrel and dark leather furniture, resembles a saloon from the Old West.

"Why, it's their nature to start with," he said of a bull's tendency to buck.

"Some are just meaner than others. Just like people."

He lights a cigarette, lets the smoke swirl around him and takes his time describing what makes a good bull.

"The buck comes from the cow, not the bull. It comes from the mama."

He points past the collection of hunting knives and John Wayne memorabilia to the framed pictures on the wall of past bulls that have brought home the goods.

"You got an old high-headed mean cow, she's gonna have a high-headed mean calf 95 percent of the time."

New this season are two young bulls that he thinks won't disappoint the crowds. "Looks like they're really going to be good ones."

As for Stegall, he prefers staying at eye level with a bull instead of riding one.

"It wasn't for me," he said of the few times he rode bulls in his youth. "There's only one way off them."

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