ESTES PARK, Colo. – The rain was heavily falling at the Stanley Park Fairgrounds when Shepherd Hills Tested burst into the arena dirt and stared off into the crowd on a cool night in Estes Park, Colorado.
The 2012 ABBI World Champion Classic Bull looked left and right, before sending a face full of snot and water high into the Colorado air as he sprinted toward the left side of the arena during his introduction to the crowd.
Shepherd Hills Tested, with his championship-contender strut and all, was clearly fired up and ready for his first action since bucking off J.W. Harris at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge in Decatur, Texas, on May 31.
Normally, on the Built Ford Tough Series, he is usually back in his pen as two-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker is taking such a lap around the arena to the roar of the crowd.
Yet with no Bushwacker in attendance at the Touring Pro Division event, Shepherd Hills Tested was the star of the show, ready to buck later in the evening as a $1,000 bounty bull.
However, by the time the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals arrive this October, Shepherd Hills Tested may be able to earn himself a victory lap or introduction on the BFTS-level next year if he is able to claim his first World Champion Bull title.
While Shepherd Hills Tested finished with an average marking of 43.67 points in nine BFTS outs in the first half, he posted three consecutive scores of 45 points or higher prior to the summer break, including a 45.75-point marking at Last Cowboy Standing when he bucked off Renato Nunes in 5.92 seconds.
He has been ridden just once this year, a 91.5-point effort by Kasey Hayes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and only twice in 38 outs on the BFTS in the past four years.
According to PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert, Shepherd Hills Tested is one of seven or eight bulls that could make a serious push for the World Champion Bull title this year.
Shepherd Hills Tested has been in the mix the past couple of years and this year should be no different.
“He is incredibly strong and gets stronger as he goes,” Lambert said. “He is just as determined to buck guys off as Bushwacker is. He is not going to let anybody steal a ride on him. They are going to have to do everything perfect on him. If they get a little bit out of shape, they are not going to hang on to the side.”
Stock contractor H.D. Page understands that it will be up to Shepherd Hills Tested to beat Bushwacker at this year’s World Finals. Bushwacker isn’t going to just stroll off into the sunset of retirement without putting forth his best performance.
“In my mind, Tested is there, but it just boils down to that weekend in Vegas,” Page said. “Bushwacker is a champ. You have to beat him. Bushwacker has deserved everything he’s gotten and if it’s close, the tie needs to go to the champ.
“Tested is going to have to bring his game and everyone else, if they want to knock Bushwacker out, they are going to have to bring their game.”
Shepherd Hills Tested has simply been a workhorse for D&H Cattle Company. Last year, he compiled a career-high 26 outs at PBR and professional rodeo events. He also posted a career-high 13 BFTS buckoffs for a personal-best average marking of 45.48 points. Over the past four years, he has 74 total career outs, while, in comparison, Bushwacker has 79 outs in the past six years.
“He is the kind of bull you pray will come along and he has been really consistent and has done really good for us,” Page said. “That is just something when you think about a bull that was hauled as much as he was when he was 3, 4 and 5, and looking back on all those outs, he has never let me down.”
Bushwacker, who won the ABBI World Champion Classic Bull title in 2010, is certainly in a league of his own and will be the favorite to win his third World Champion Bull title; but Tested has proven to be no easy out for riders.
“He has a lot of miles on him and is a big, big bull,” Lambert added. “He is bigger than Bushwacker, not as tall, but heavier. He has a bucking style that will get most guys because he bucks up hill. He has the forward motion that it feels like you are riding a buffalo, where the rear end is down and the front end is up.”
The roughly 1,700-pound bull is also so wide that his shoulders barely fit inside the bucking chute. Not only is he a larger bull, but it is his initial explosion when leaving the bucking chute that can begin to unseat the strongest of riders.
While event organizers prepared for Shepherd Hills Tested to buck on Friday night following the championship round, Page explained that the wet conditions would benefit his bull. Not only would the conditions make it hard for Montana Hand – who had won the event with an 85.5-point ride on Flab Slab to earn a shot against the famed bull – to get a grip on his bull rope, but the wetter ground would be better for the bull than the normally dry dirt in Estes Park.
Shepherd Hills Tested bucks off Montana Hand in Estes Park, Colo.
Sure enough, Shepherd Hills Tested showed no signs of rust after being off for a month, or any discomfort in the rainy conditions, and he easily displaced Hand in 2.97 seconds by erupting from the chute with more power than Hand expected.
“I have been getting on bulls for 14 years, professionally four, and that bull had a lot of kick,” said Hand, still in awe of Tested’s power. “That first kick out, he kicks over the bucking chute when he leaves there.
“I’ll tell you what, you can’t get on something with more power underneath you like that.”
Page called it a typical Shepherd Hills Tested out. Even if it was simply an ABBI event, Tested showed the same burst and power that he has throughout the year. Page believes that it can be hard for fans watching on TV to truly grasp how strong Tested is in his first initial jump out of the chute.
“It is just coming from dead still,” Page said. “It is kind of like Secretariat leaving the gates. There is a lot of weight being thrown around at a pretty rapid speed.”
Shepherd Hills Tested is expected to compete in Blackhawk, Colorado, tonight, before appearing at the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park this week. Page is planning on hauling Tested to multiple rodeos this summer in hopes of qualifying the bull for the National Finals Rodeo, where Shepherd Hills Tested is the defending PRCA Bull of the Year.
Therefore, it is likely the bull will have close to the 26 outs he recorded in 2013, if not more, by the end of the year. Page isn’t concerned about his bull’s workload as Shepherd Hills Tested has shown to get better each out.
“He has always been the type where the more he goes, the better he is,” Page said. “He gets in better shape and stays loosened up.”
Most of all, Shepherd Hills Tested simply enjoys competing like any athlete. Page can open the gate at his Oklahoma ranch and his prized bovine will trot towards the trailer. He will then stand in the truck, patiently waiting for Page to close the gate.
Then once they arrive at an event, Tested is ready to buck.
“When you run him into the bucking chute, he licks his lips,” Page said. “He doesn’t fight or act up. He doesn’t dread any part of this. I know people say this a lot, but he really enjoys what he does.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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