A dirty game: Bull riders say soil is at heart of good PBR event

Click to play video: 'A closer look at the dirt dumped into Rogers Place for the PBR Global Cup' A closer look at the dirt dumped into Rogers Place for the PBR Global Cup
WATCH ABOVE: Much of the focus on the PBR Global Cup at Rogers Place will be on the riders and the bulls but the dirt which has been brought to Rogers Place for the event is an interesting story itself. Fletcher Kent explains – Nov 10, 2017

For the first time, Rogers Place is getting dirty. It’s taking a lot of planning and work to get it that way.

The Professional Bull Riders Global Cup is in Edmonton this weekend. Over 72 hours, crews transform the new hockey rink into a bull-riding arena.

At the heart of that transformation is dirt — 300 tonnes of dirt.

Tuesday morning, the trucks began arriving, hauling load after load of soil.

Watching each truck arrive was a team of dirt experts because, with the PBR, not just any dirt will do.

“There’s actually quite the science behind it,” PBR’s James White said.

“We have to maintain a certain viscosity of the dirt and the soil we bring in so the cowboy and the bucking bull have the same advantage.”

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White talks about finding the right ratio of sand to clay, about the perfect moisture content, the right kinds of loam. As he does that, a bobcat spreads the dirt around and a team hovers around tape measures and analyzes what’s being laid down.

It is very precise but at the same time, what the PBR wants is pretty simple.

Riders want dirt that’s in what you might call the Goldilocks zone — not too hard and not too soft. It packs just right.

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“If it’s harder, the bull has better traction and he can jump a lot higher and a spin a lot faster with more confidence,” White said. That scenario gives an advantage to the bull and makes the ground very hard when the rider falls.

Bullrider Zane Lambert says he has ridden on all kinds of dirt before and he notices the good and the bad.

Lambert says the soft soil “sometimes screws a bull up because he changes stuff up because he feels like he’s getting bogged down. He’ll switch his game plan and go the other way so it also changes our bulls’ attitudes.”

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Then there were the stops where the dirt supplier left something else in the soil.

“I had some hard ones in some cities where they don’t like to bring in dirt. Maybe some crushed rock in there can scar you up.”

At every stop, PBR officials look for the perfect blend of soils to create the perfect bull-riding base.

For the Edmonton event, they went to The Black Dirt Company, just west of the city.

Darren Hinkel said he was intrigued when the PBR officials first told him what they wanted. He said he had just the thing and sent them a ziploc bag full of what he described as a kind of bedding soil.

“Passed with flying colours,” Hinkel said. “A little bit of luck and a little bit of coincidence and we’re here today.”

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As his trucks make regular visits to Rogers Place, Hinkel watches over them and stands smiling where centre ice used to be before it was covered with plywood.

“We’re just having fun with it. We’re just enjoying it. As far as dirt goes, in our world, this is about as exciting as it gets.”

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The PBR Global Cup is different than most bull riding competitions. This isn’t an individual contest.

Cowboys from five different countries form teams. PBR holds a Global Cup event in each of the nations and the winning team takes home a piece of a championship trophy which represents the host nation.

In each of these trophies is a vessel that contains the dirt used in the event.

The winner takes the host nation’s soil home with them.

Lambert says defending home soil is a big motivator this weekend.

“It’s my dirt and I want it. I’ve been here for three generations and my grandfathers were buried in this soil so I want to compete for it.”

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