In the beginning of every frigid January, Madison Square Garden holds its three-day annual Professional Bull Riders event: a tour that brings in famous bucking beasts and their riders from around the world to compete, hosting names like baby-faced 19-year-old champion Jess Lockwood, São Paulo native Marco Eguchi, and the man with the most ironic surname of all, Ryan Dirteater. This past weekend, MSG again became unrecognizable. Stadium signatures like the polished Zamboni and a shiny basketball court were replaced with a dirt-covered floor and the sweet scent of manure.
New York accents were replaced by Southern twangs and Brazilian trills. Toppers were no longer baseball caps but rather earthy-hued Western cowboys hats. Not a team jersey was in sight. The crowd, watching hopeful riders attempt to hold onto the thrashing bull for at least eight seconds, ebbed in plaids and denim. Lilliputian fans armed with autograph books, dapper in collared shirts and pint-size shearling jackets, were mini-me versions of their fathers. Sometimes, these teeny humans appeared as if they would tip over: Their cowboy hats typically stayed adult-size.
And what of the main attraction, the bull riders themselves? Their garb waved between classic and flashy. True blue Wrangler jeans were the pants du jour, and they were most often sandblasted with white stitching, adorned with fat belt loops, and christened with extra long cuffs to fit over the boot. Separating crowd from rider were clothes saturated with sponsors. Brands were, well, branded: The Monster Energy logo was ubiquitous, blazed onto a rider’s sleeves, embroidered on collars, and stamped on shirt backs in its signature nuclear green. Patches offered a commercial splash on black leather vests: little highlighter beacons on the arena floor boasting names like Ariat and Discount Tire. The most standout piece of clothing was the leather chaps. Large and in charge, with grandiose Elvis-esque flares (and flair), covered in talisman-like crosses and initials, their foot-long fringe from waist to cuff whipped back and forth whenever the bull bucked. But not every single part of a bull rider’s uniform requires glitzy embellishment: A fresh bag of ice for the rope-holding hand certainly seemed to go a long way.
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