When George Chicha saw the movie “Urban Cowboy” in 1980, it sparked his belief that the rodeo world actually did need a world championship mechanical bull riding contest.
In the movie, John Travolta and Debra Winger play a couple whose romance unfolds in a Texas honky tonk called Gilley’s Club, which offers a $5,000 prize to the rider who can ride its mechanical bull the longest.
Chicha rode bareback horses on the rodeo circuit in the ’60s. He enjoyed the challenge and thrill but, like many riders, faced the reality of returning to school or work Monday after a grueling weekend competition. He left rodeo to raise a family; but in 2019, at age 72, he realized his dream and co-founded Mechanical Bull Riders, where nearly anyone can compete for prize money, a commemorative buckle and a title in the Mechanical Bull Riders World Championship.
“No matter what your background — maybe you didn’t play sports, maybe you had to work, maybe you were sick — this is a chance for you to put it on the line and go for it,” said Chihca, who lives in Pendleton, Ore.
Friday, Mechanical Bull Riders will be at the Lewiston Roundup Western Extravaganza Mega Night Finale, where events include the Lewiston Challenge. The challenge is to ride the mechanical bull for 30 seconds with one hand. Contestants pay a $50 entry fee. All entry fees are combined and paid out to riders with the top times. Local sponsors pay the costs of bringing the competition to the area, Chicha said.
Anyone who competes in the Lewiston Challenge qualifies to compete in a future world championship competition. The reigning world champ is Laura Moore, the equestrian coach at Washington State University in Pullman. Moore won nearly $5,000 in the first contest in 2019. Contests in 2020 were canceled because of the pandemic.
Bull riding is a male-dominated sport on the professional rodeo circuit, but in the mechanical bull competition, women and men are treated equally. That was important to Chicha, who said he has never understood why women are encouraged to compete in certain rodeo events, like barrel racing, but not others, like bull riding. It wasn’t always that way, he said. He studied early rodeo history while forming rules for the competition and learned about trailblazing women like Alice Greenough Orr, of Red Lodge, Mont., who excelled at nearly every rodeo event and helped found the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“We came to think that gender didn’t make any difference to your rideability,” he said. “We took a little heat for putting men and women together.”
In past competitions, women made up 16 percent of entries and took 42 percent of the money.
Another foundation of the mechanical bull competition is the idea of connecting America, he said. Riding a mechanical bull takes agility, strength, balance, endurance and “raw determination;” it doesn’t require knowledge of livestock, riding or a country background.
“The majority of our riders come from the city, believe it or not. That’s not what we expected.”
Among the rules for riders are that they must be age 18 or older, weigh 250 pounds or less and adhere to a dress code of long sleeves and pants. People cannot be physically or mentally impaired by alcohol or drugs or wear clothing with personal or political statements.
Along with winning the biggest percentage of prize money, the top rider in Lewiston will receive a custom-made buckle.
Focus is one key to staying on the mechanical bull, Chicha said. “When that bull changes directions, you gotta be ready to go with it.”
People interested in learning more about the championships can visit the website www.mbrwc.com.