Chase Outlaw rides Hard Times for 84.75 points during a Houston Built Ford… (Andy Watson/PBR Tour )
While some people might get in the pen with a 2,000-pound enraged bull and see the physical manifestation of their worst childhood nightmares, Chase Outlaw sees something different.
"It's just a dancing partner," the 20-year-old professional bull rider said.
"It's just like dancing," he reiterated. "You've gotta stay with them step for step. You don't want to step on her toes and you don't want her stepping on yours, so y'all stay in tune with each other."
Outlaw rides into Rosemont this weekend as part of the Professional Bull Riders' Chicago Invitational. His current profession is about all he's ever known, having started riding calves at age 4.
"My dad used to ride bulls," he said. "He told me to get on in and hang the hell on, don't let go. It's worked out pretty good so far."
That it has. The Hamburg, Ark., native enters this event as the seventh-ranked rider on tour, and he has amassed more than $170,000 in winnings. It's success Outlaw attributes largely to his ability to read his dance partners.
"It's just reaction and timing," he said. "Knowing how a bull bucks and being on his back, you won't know that feeling until he's between your legs. The way he's bucking and the way he reacts, it's just something different every time and it's an awesome feeling."
It's also his first time riding on tour in Chicago, though that's something he seems nonplussed about when asked.
"It don't matter if I'm riding in my hometown or riding in Vegas or in Chicago, I've gotta have the same mindset as I would anywhere else knowing I'm going to win," he said.
And while Outlaw's career is just beginning, fellow PBR athlete Luke Snyder acknowledges that his own bull-riding days are numbered.
"This sport can end at any minute," the Raymore, Mo., native said. "I'm 30 years old so that's getting up there in this sport. I'm definitely towards the end of my career. I still love it and I still have a passion for it. The day I don't have that any more is the day that I'll hang it up."
Snyder, who enters this weekend ranked 10th on tour, has been riding bulls professionally for 13 years. While he and everyone else who has ever been to Allstate Arena can hear the roar from planes landing nearby at O'Hare, Snyder said the noise won't affect the bulls or his ability to stay on them.
"It won't bother [the bulls] any," he said. "It's actually nice for us though because we like being close to the airport to head to the next big city."
Snyder said he got into bull riding in much the same way kids get into any other sport.
"For the most part, all of us start really young," he said. "We go to school that teaches us how to do it just like a kid would go to football camp or baseball camp. They teach us all the ins and outs, the whole nine yards. It's pretty cool."
Both men have been riding bulls for as long as they can remember, and both say they still get nervous before each ride.
Of course, that's a good thing in their profession.
"The minute you get on one of these animals and don't think that they can hurt you, that's usually when you start getting hurt," Snyder said.
And the danger is no joke.
According to a 2011 study by the University of Calgary in Alberta, 16 rodeo athletes died from chest injuries between 1989 and 2009. A representative of the PBR Tour said there have been no rider deaths in its events in at least the past five years. All riders must wear a protective vest, and many choose to wear a helmet.
"The nerves only work in your favor because if you get nervous, it's gonna make you hold on a little bit tighter and stay on top of him instead of being on the ground right beside him," Outlaw said.
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
Professional Bull Riders' Chicago Invitational
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Allstate Arena
Tickets: $15-$125; visit pbr.com.
HOW IT'S DONE
There are 35 riders competing in the Chicago PBR event, and the winner takes home $30,000.
Here are the rules, according to pbr.com.
"A qualified ride is 8 seconds. The clock starts when the bull's shoulder or flank breaks the plane of the gate. It ends when the rider's hand comes out of the rope, the rider touches the ground or the rider's free arm touches the bull. A successful ride will earn a score of 0-100 points. Scores of 90 or above are considered outstanding.
"Four judges rate each rider and each bull on a scale from 1-25. Those points are added together and divided in half to reach a rider score and a bull score of between 0-50. Those numbers are then combined to reach a final ride score between 0-100. Judges look for control—the ability of the rider to successfully counter the moves of the bull.
"For a two-day event, the Top 10 riders following Round 1 will advance to compete with one more bull the first night. Following the long round on the second day, the riders with the 10 highest scores will advance to the championship round, where they will compete with one more bull."
"The overall event winner is the rider with the highest combined score on all of his bulls."
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye Sports' Facebook page.