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Full Ride

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For this Oviedo High School senior, paying for college from the back of a bucking beast is no bull

For this Oviedo High School senior, paying for college from the back of a bucking beast is no bull

How would you like to be violently thrown off an angry, 1,500-pound animal, possibly trampled and gored, while clinging to the hope that a man in a clown suit will run in to save the day? To most, the work of a rodeo bull rider is risky at best and crazy at worst. But for Jesse Petri, an 18-year-old senior at Oviedo High, it’s what he loves to do, and it’s starting to pay big dividends.
“It’s an adrenaline rush for sure,” says Jesse, who has been thrown seven to eight feet in the air on several occasions and “hooked” by a bull’s horns more than a few times. “When I was younger and first got on the bigger bulls, I was scared, but I eventually got used to it, and then it just became so much fun.”

But you know what they say: It’s all fun and games until it pays for college... Wait. What?

Jesse’s bull riding has earned him no fewer than five full college scholarship offers to schools with competitive bull-riding teams in Texas. And you thought all the money was in lacrosse. Jesse will attend Western Texas College in the fall, and it’s no wonder his skills were in such high – and lucrative – demand.

Jesse was recently crowned the 2015 Southern States Bull Rider Association champion, as well as the 2016 Monster Bulls Champion. His performances at local and national bull-riding competitions not only earned Jesse a fistful of scholarships, but he has also secured a new professional sponsor,, as he begins riding for the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). Jesse credits his previous local sponsors, Updike Citrus Services and Dave Erdman of Warthog Safaris, with allowing him to compete on the amateur level.

With just a few months of high school remaining, Jesse is leading the High School Rodeo Series and has qualified for this summer’s High School Rodeo Finals in Gillette, Wyoming. The summer of 2016 will be a busy one for Jesse, as he has been chosen by Bloomer Trailers of Texas to be on its rodeo team for the International Rodeo in Shawnee, Oklahoma. There’s no doubt about it, Jesse is staying active and has big plans to make his living from bullback after college.

“Bull riding is a huge professional sport, and you can make a lot of money if you’re good at it, plus you get to travel around the world doing what you love,” says Jesse, who plans to study agriculture and ranch management while in college. “In high school, my classmates don’t realize the scope of bull riding and don’t understand what it takes to do what I do, but I understand it’s not a popular high-school sport.”

And that’s okay for Jesse’s mom, Valerie. She initially had major reservations about her son riding bulls, but Valerie admits she has never seen anyone with as much laser focus and determination as her son.

“He wants to be a world champion bull rider, and he’s totally dedicated to doing what he has to do in order to achieve that,” says Valerie, who has been around rodeos all her life. “I recognize that bull riding is dangerous, but he was always so good at it and takes every precaution to be safe, so I’ve come to accept that this is what he loves.”

The fact that Jesse has become very proficient at dismounting and getting away from bulls safely after his rides is a big source of pride for the teen.

“Most of the time, I land on my feet, which is something that I’ve worked hard at and has saved me a lot of bumps and bruises,” Jesse says. “In order to be successful at this, you have to get the feel of the bull down and understand how they think and move. Part of the sport is falling and getting trampled, but when you’re focused and train hard, you can minimize injuries.”

Valerie remembers that her son knew he wanted to ride bulls when he was nine years old. He was always tuned in to what he wanted to do, and she’s thrilled that his dream has always been so well-defined. The college scholarship offers have been a bonus and something that Valerie sees as all part of Jesse’s plan.

“Most people don’t realize that a lot of colleges offer full scholarships for bull riding,” Valerie explains, “but at one rodeo show in Oklahoma, Jesse was approached by three college scouts. In states like Texas and others in the Midwest, bull riding is as big as football.”

As Jesse prepares for his freshman year in college and to compete in collegiate bull-riding tournaments around the country, he’s equally excited about the opportunity to earn his degree.

“I want to compete on the Professional Bull Riders tour for as long as I can, but one day I want to have my own working ranch with horses, bucking bulls, and cows,” Jesse says. “I love this lifestyle, and I love the animals. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing with my life.”

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