The Elgin Stampede opened its run Thursday night with the coronation of a queen, Maggie Zacharias of Joseph, and the first of two nights of barrels and bulls. Nineteen PBR (Professional Bull Riders) cowboys competed in the 21st annual Mark Nichols Memorial Bull Riding. Eastern Oregon native, and fourth generation rodeo cowboy Derek Kolbaba won the event, with rides of 82 and 82.5 points, besting Caleb McMillan of Soap Lake, Washington by 7.5 points.

The Elgin Stampede’s 2019 queen is Maggie Zacharias of Joseph. Zacharias’s horse got saddled-up with the Queen’s new saddle right there in the arena, and she rode out as the Stampede’s new royalty.

Kolbaba, the great-grandson of stock-contractor and Chief Joseph Days pioneer Harley Tucker, has rodeo in his blood. Currently ranked #8 in the world by the PBA, Kolbaba mastered three bulls Thursday night, sticking on his first mount, a red bull named Seeing Spots, for a long time after the 8 second buzzer sounded. “There just didn’t seem to be any good place to get off,” he said. Seeing Spots was a reluctant bucker who never hit the spin cycle. Kolbaba scored 61 points for his trouble, and was offered a re-ride. That second ride, on a bull named Pshco Joabout 10 minutes later, earned 82 points. His last ride, on a mostly white bull named Breaking Bad, included sideways bucking and high-end kicks combined with spin. He and the bull scored 82.5 points, to win the Wednesday night bulls.

Kolbaba approaches bull-riding like a dance, he said. “You have to move with the bull, like he’s your dance partner. You have to respond to his moves, and you never know exactly what they might be.” Unlike some of his bullriding colleagues, he doesn’t study or try to remember the moves that his rides are reputed to make. “If you expect that he’ll spin to the right, and that night he comes out and spins the other way, you can be in a world of hurt,” Kolbaba said. His remedy is to not worry, and not anticipate. “Riding bulls is all in your head,” he said. “You have to work out some, too. You have to practice—doing drop barrels, and some other things to keep balance and agility. But the strongest guy in the world can’t control a 1500 to 1800-pound bull, or even stay on for long, just on strength alone.”

The specter of injury dogs every bullrider and rodeo contestant. “It’s one of those kind of things. You’ve just gotta roll with the punches and heal up when you can and just go right back to business,” he said. Last year, Kolbaba tore up his knee at a rodeo in Little Rock, Arkansas. “It was a setback,” he said. “But you’ve just gotta gather it up, do the physical therapy, take the time and come back stronger than you were before.”

Kolbaba’s quest for a PBR championship keeps him on the road almost constantly. From Elgin, he’ll travel to a rodeo in Cheney, Washington. From there he goes to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then to Salinas, California, then Salt Lake City, then to Ogden, Utah, back to Salinas, and then to Cheyenne, Wyoming for Frontier days Then it’s back to Salt Lake and then perhaps, if time permits, Chief Joseph Days. And that’s just two weeks. “It’s pretty much a rat-race from January thru November,” he said.

“Sometimes, when you are on the road you get it into your head that you’ve got a bull drawn that’s not very good, or an all-night drive isn’t really all that fun,” Kolbaba said. “And then you think ‘Well, shoot, we’re gonna do what we love, and every day is pretty dang special. It could be a whole lot worse.’ So when I say that we’re living the dream, that’s about the only way you can sum it up.”

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