Underwood’s Coy Thorson
By Merrie Sue Holtan
Photography by Janssen Photography and Al Braunworth Photography
Ask Coy Thorson, a senior at Underwood High School, how his day is going, and he responds in his quiet cowboy way, “Well I’ve been bucked, reared, kicked, spun and twisted, but I stayed on for 8 seconds. Earned some points. Got second place. Took home some cash. $5,000 in my best month.”
Coy recently earned a bull riding eighth place at the National High School Rodeo Championships in Wyoming. At the 2015 Minnesota State High School Rodeo Association competition, he won the state title in Bulls, Saddle Bronc Riding, and Steer Wrestling and became the State All-Around Cowboy champion based on his accumulated points throughout the rodeo season.
He stands at 5’10”, weighs in at 145 and rides massive hulking bulls that average 1500 to 1600 pounds, with names like Smackdown, Quiet Riot or Bushwacker. Even the top pros in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) only conquer the bull 30 to 60 percent of the time.
After a weekend of bull riding, Coy heads off to Rockets football practice in the fall, and wrestling practice in the winter.
On the field and the mat
His choice to ride during the Minnesota High School Rodeo season and the rest of the year on the semi -professional circuit, lends Coy even more mental toughness for his nine-man football team.
“As a middle linebacker Coy is a little undersized, but he has incredible instincts and shows a fearlessness that is second to none,” says defensive coach, Brian Hovland. “He is always around the ball and with his wrestling background combined with that tough cowboy attitude; he is a defensive coordinator’s dream.”
Coy appreciates his coaches’ flexibility because it might mean missing a practice, training or even a game or match. “I feel pretty ‘farm strong’ and confident from the work I do
on our 40-acre ranch, like fencing,” he says. “Plus the ‘rodeoing’ keeps me in great shape physically and mentally.”
“I have one word for Coy,” says his mother, Kelly Thorson, a registered nurse. “He is fearless. There hasn’t been one thing that has scared him since he was born.”
Coy, who has played football since third grade, started varsity football his sophomore year. He and his teammates have a mindset to win the Minnesota State Nine- Man title this year. Last year the Rockets beat Verndale at the Fargodome for a trip to state. The team lost their first game. In 2013, the team had been beaten in the state finals. With experienced seniors in the lineup, Coy believes they can get the job done this season.
“I have quick feet as a player and I hit hard,” Coy says. “And I have a family who is aggressive about everything, and a mean brother.” He smiles looking at older brother Colton, who played football for Fergus Falls High School, and also wrestles steers on the rodeo circuit and works the family ranch, including horse training.
Since age three, Coy reports that he has been mentored in wrestling by his brother and uncles who are “big into the sport.” They hauled him everywhere in the state to compete nearly every weekend. Last year his record stood at 30-8 in the 145 pound category.
“I was ranked in state last year,” Coy says. “But I choked at sections. I lost to a wrestler I should have beaten. It wasn’t my day. Pretty disappointing. My goal is to make state again this season.”
On the bull
As the youngest of four kids in a rodeo family, Coy tagged along from the time he was a baby. He watched Colton wrestle steers, and sisters, Paige and Paris, barrel race. The bulls fascinated him the most, and he rode his first bull at age 10.
“He spent hours watching the bulls,” says mom Kelly. “By the time he was five, he was getting on steers, and no matter how hard he was thrown, he’d say, ‘give me another.’”
While brother Colton taught him the basics of riding, Coy credits bull riding mentor Troy Meech, who owns Bucking Bulls in Nimrod, Minn., for much of his knowledge.
“Troy has lots of bulls and practice pens, and it was the place I rode my first ‘real deal’ bull,” Coy says. “That bull bucked me off four times, but I just kept getting back on.”
“Coy has the talent and size, aggressiveness and mental toughness to be a champion and maybe a professional rider someday,” says Troy, who trains about 25 riders. “I help Coy stay focused on the small techniques like keeping your chin tucked out of the chute. We also hold rodeos at our arena and lease our bulls to other rodeos.”
Rodeo entry fees usually cost about $80 for an average ride and $200-300 for rides sanctioned by the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Depending on the competition, riders can earn $2500 to 3,000 for smaller events and up to $20,000 to 30,000 at PRB rodeos.
Bull riding competition has ancient roots dating back to the Minoan culture and modernized in Mexico with equestrian contests and ranching skills. Wild West shows popularized steer wrestling, and the first formal rodeo is claimed both by Colorado in 1869 and Wyoming in 1872. Dubbed a “risky sport,” bull riding has been called the most “dangerous eight seconds in sports” by National Geographic. The PRCA and PBR, along with the Championship Bull Riding (CBR), provide rodeo tours throughout the United States and the world and have gained major media coverage.
Coy explains each bull must be judged to be in good health, agility and age to be able to compete. The rider and bull are matched randomly before the competition, and the total score for a bull ride is 100 points. 50 points for the bull and 50 for the rider.
“Two judges look for power and speed, back end kicks and front end. If the bull gives the rider a hard time, more points are awarded,” Coy says.
Judges give extra style points to riders with constant control and rhythm, matching the movements of the bull. Riders receive penalties for being off balance and being bucked off before eight seconds or touching the bull, the rope, or himself with his free arm which results in disqualification.
Before Coy mounts the bull in the bucking chute, he puts on chaps to protect his legs and thighs and a protective leather vest made with high-impact foam. His soft leather Tiffany riding glove prevents rope burn, and boots and spurs keep the rider balanced.
“I wear a Bull Tough face mask with a gel packed Bauer hockey helmet and also a mouth guard,” Coy says. “Basically because I like my face and teeth. I have had concussions, a broken jaw, torn muscles, and arm and shoulder injuries.”
“I mount high on the bull’s hump, wrap the rope tightly, squeeze with my legs, lift up on the rope, push my hips forward, and we are out of the chute,” Coy says. “I don’t control the bull, I follow him. When I’m done, I run like crazy to the fence.”
The next rodeo
After graduation, Coy wants to ride the professional circuit “everywhere” and maybe move toward the “heart of rodeo” in the South or West. He points out there aren’t many riders older than 30, so he will eventually study a trade and perhaps work training horses like his brother.
“Rodeo people have been like a family to me,” Coy says. “Everyone helps everyone and they really push me to be better.”
“This kid just never quits,” mom Kelly adds, “No matter how rough or tough it gets. It doesn’t matter what sport, he just keeps going back for more.”