by Mark Strassmann, a CBS News correspondent based in Atlanta.In the bucking chute of a rodeo in Carthage, Mississippi, Lane Huszar gets ready for his moment of truth.
Lane's a competitor in the bull riding event, the highlight of any rodeo for its drama and danger. For protection, he's wearing his helmet, mouth guard and safety vest. Beyond that, like any bull rider, he'll have to rely on his experience and a little bit of luck.
And Lane is all of ten years old.
I met up with Lane and the Huszar family at the Mid-South Little Britches Rodeo. They're a rodeo family, and at rodeos like this one, it's all about family. Moms and dads volunteer in the concession stands, watch each other's kids, help watch the horses, and share food and support. In this respect, the junior rodeo circuit is much like Little League or Girl Scouts or any activity where different families come together and rally around the share interest of their children.
But let's face it, in one respect bull riding is different. It has been called "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports." And since 2001, eight junior riders, eighteen years old or younger, have been killed riding bulls. The youngest rider killed was Braeden Chamberlain, a nine-year-old from Alberta, Canada. No one has studied how dangerous the sport is for junior riders, but for adult riders, one study showed its injury rate is ten times higher than in football, and thirteen times higher than hockey. It's not ping pong. And a lot of parents will wonder, how on earth other families could let their kids climb onto a bucking bull and into such danger.
Joe Huszar could tell you. He's Lane's father, and one of the parents who spend their weekends driving their kids from rodeo to rodeo and competition to competition. Huszar is 41, and a former bull rider himself. No more. At his age, he says, "I don't bounce as well as I used to." He named his son Lane after Lane Frost, the six-time world champion bull riding legend. But as expert on a bull as Frost was, he was also killed by a bull during a rodeo in 1989. So I asked Joe Huszar to explain, especially to people who know nothing about rodeo culture, why he lets Lane ride a nine-hundred pound bull that's looking to bounce his son into next week.
"You don't want your child to get hurt," Huszar explained. "There's a risk, but there's a lot of safety standards, too." He said he would never push his son to ride bulls, but it's something little Lane has always wanted to do, a boy his mother describes as sweet and sensitive but "tough as nails." So the boy's family supports him and his dreams of rodeo glory. He began as a three-year-old riding sheep, and then calves, before moving up to smaller bulls. Lane has been stepped on by a bull before, badly bruised, but so far, no major injuries. Teenage riders even a few years older will cheerfully catalog their history of broken bones and head bounces.
Like many families of junior bull riders at this rodeo, the Huszars admitted they pray a lot to protect their child whenever he climbs aboard a bull. And Joe Huszar said he had a moment of self-doubt recently, when at a recent rodeo he watched another family's son get hurt by a bull. "I told my wife," Huszar said, "I don't know if I can still watch this." So he had a long father-son talk with Lane about bull riding that reminded the boy of the dangers and risks. "You gotta know the next time you get on, it's the last time you could ever breathe." He told Lane to think hard about it, and not give him an answer right away. A week later Lane told his dad he had thought about it, and wanted to keep riding bulls. So he does.
In this particular rodeo, Lane climbed aboard a nine-hundred pound bull. The goal for a rider his age is to stay aboard for six seconds. The gate opened. The bull charged out, twisting and turning and writhing, and Lane hung on for dear life. He lasted about four seconds before the bull bucked him off, what riders call "wrecking." As grown-ups in his ring distracted the bull, Lane went running out of the arena, unhurt, ready to take on another bull another day.
Lane loves this sport. But even at his age, this little rider understands all the safety questions about it. As a rider, he said, "If you're not nervous, then there's something wrong with you. But if you're scared, then you don't need to do it because you're gonna get hurt."
Tune in to Mark Strassmann's upcoming report on the CBS Evening News.