PUEBLO, Colo. — When retired NFL fullback Mike Warren met and quickly meshed with bull trainer Marty Foutch, the ideas that followed were indeed progressive. Ultimately, the pair joined forces and have come up with one of the most exciting industry concepts to date —a revolutionary bovine training, conditioning and rehab center. The center of this facility? A swimming pool for bulls.
The pool serves as a conditioning tool for the animal athletes of the PBR and ABBI, as well as an innovative way to rehab injured bulls. The pool concept isn't new for other animal athletes — there are equine pools in use already — but this is the first pool specifically designed and built for bucking bulls.
"We have been swimming bulls for 90 days now and we are excited the pool is doing exactly what we thought it would. It is conditioning bulls and it is allowing those bulls with injuries to come back much faster — we see the difference in bucking them," said Foutch, an ABBI member and stock contractor. "We are swimming an average of 35 bulls a week."
Foutch has also worked as a trainer and breeding consultant for ABBI Shareholder Tom Teague. He met North Carolina’s Warren at Teague’s annual sale through Ross Coleman. Warren and his father have been involved with the ABBI’s Back Seat Buckers program for three years and had come to know Coleman through the process.
“I’ve had a dream of building and operating a state-of-the art bull conditioning facility ever since we got into the bull business,” Foutch said. “This has been a passion of ours since the beginning. I could just never afford to do it the way I envisioned it. If I’m doing something I’m gonna do it 110 percent and I’m going to do it right. Meeting Mike (Warren) has turned a life-long dream into a reality and we couldn’t be more excited over what this facility will do for the entire industry.
“Mike came to the sale and we met briefly. Then he just kept calling me and all he wanted to do was talk about bulls," Foutch continued. "Eventually he ended up coming down and staying with us for a week. We didn’t know him from Adam, but it was clear he was serious about the bull business. He was just like a sponge soaking it up. We started talking about every aspect of the industry. Being an athlete himself, Mike asked about ways to get a competitive edge through conditioning and training methods. That opened the door to discussions about my dream of having a facility. Then the next morning sitting at the kitchen table he brought it up again. And he told me he was in and wanted to do it, and he said he was going to buy a place.”
A few months later Warren purchased the property near Canton where the facility now sits. The property also has a residence on site, which Warren has moved into, a clear sign of his commitment to this venture.
Foutch and Warren spent an enormous amount of time poring over ideas and concepts for the facility. From sketching in the dirt to a box full of notebooks where ideas were crafted, reworked and expanded. They visited numerous equine facilities and ultimately crafted their own project into a revolutionary concept. The project has been a work in progress and also one that is ever-evolving. Foutch’s bull and equine background coupled with Warren’s pro-athletic experience was a golden combination when it came to this uncharted undertaking.
“A lot of the places we went and looked at were either outside or just covered, and you couldn’t swim during several months of the year,” Warren said. “I told Marty we needed to have a way we could do it year around and keep it enclosed. I wanted to try to carry over everything that I have learned playing football when it comes to conditioning bulls and being able to do it year-round is a very important part for any athlete.”
Warren played three years of professional football including a half season with the New York Jets before being traded to the Saints. His last season was spent with the Chargers and it was there where he learned the real value of conditioning through swimming.
“My last season was with the Chargers and we did a lot of swimming for conditioning. It is a low-impact form of cardio so it’s easy on your joints, but it is also a great form of resistance training,” Warren said. “Not only that, but it also builds up your lung capacity because it’s an aerobic type of conditioning. Bulls are athletes just like people, and swimming is just the best way for an athlete to condition themselves. There is a lot that can be applied from my experiences to this.”
Not only does Warren understand how swimming helps in athletic conditioning, but he also has personal experience with it from an injury rehab stance.
“I tore three different ligaments in my knee and we trained and rehabbed in a vat-style pool that had jets working against you. They hook a belt to you and you are standing on a treadmill moving underneath. Although we considered this form of rehab and conditioning for the bulls, we ultimately settled on the free swimming of a pool. There are too many variables to do it safely and correctly with bulls. A basic swimming pool also gave us the most options for conditioning as opposed to a treadmill or jet type of system.”
Free swimming’s ability to build cardiopulmonary function and lung capacity is something very attractive to many bull trainers and owners. Perhaps nothing matters more than a bull’s ability to turn oxygen into power while being straddled and under a rider’s rope.
When it comes to rehabbing bulls with injuries, swimming offers not only a quicker method of physical rehabilitation, but a method that has mental benefits as well. Foutch hits on some key hurdles owners face when bringing a bull back from an injury and how swimming is a great option.
“When bulls are hurt a lot of times you have to isolate them from others,” Foutch said. “They are a herd animal and that can take a mental toll on them and even play a role in their recovery. People will be surprised at how bulls will take to swimming. It’s good for them physically, but also mentally. It breaks up the monotony and they will come out of a swim session refreshed—especially during the summer months when it is hot.”
The center’s current size is impressive, but with the enormous amount of interest Foutch and Warren have already had, the scope of their venture seems to keep growing.
“We would like to be able to house from 70-100 bulls at any given time,” Warren said. “We don’t want to only be able to provide therapeutic care, but also training and a place to buck them. On top of that we wanted to make this a full experience for bull owners. When someone comes in they will be able to go upstairs to the observatory and bar and watch their bulls rehab and swim on one side then turn around and watch them buck on the other. It will be a complete care facility. ”
Foutch and Warren hope the facility will catch on and become something owners begin to think about in terms of prevention. In human athletes, conditioning is preventative.
“We hope to start conditioning and prepping bulls early on,” Foutch said. “We’d like to start conditioning our yearlings so that when we start bucking them as 2-year-olds they are fit and in shape which we really believe will prevent injuries in the long run.”
Bulls housed at the center for conditioning and training will be kept in the training portion of the facility while injured bulls sent in by veterinarians for rehab will be housed in the therapy portion of the center adjacent to the pool.
The two handlers will guide each bull through the swimming process, which will be predetermined based and his individually preset therapy or conditioning requirement. Once the designated therapy session is completed, the pool exit gate will open allowing the bull to exit the pool where he originally entered and back up the lead-out to the drying area. The drying area is equipped with an infrared light system which will be a welcomed feature for drying during the winter months.
“You know this whole process is like walking on the moon,” Foutch said. “It’s never been done, so there are going to be challenges and adjustments along the way. We have tried to think of everything, but I am sure we will come across things along the way that we will have to figure out. Our biggest priority is to do it right, do it well and make a difference in the industry.”
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