PROFESSIONAL BULL RIDERS MONSTER ENERGY BUCK OFF AT THE GARDEN
Madison Square Garden
31st - 33rd Sts. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
January 6-8, $26-$208 ($506 for PBR Elite Seats)
In her introduction to the 1931 book Family Fun: Games and Good Times for Children and Parents, Mabel Travis Wood wrote, “The family that plays together stays together.” The Byrnes have taken that to a whole new level, a kind of Flying Wallendas except trying to maintain their balance on bulls instead of the high wire (although, as the above photo shows, they do occasionally soar through the air). In 2004, bullfighting champion Ryan Byrne was inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame after a long and distinguished career. His wife, Kelley, is a barrel racer who has written a children’s book about bullfighting. They have raised three athletic sons, Bo, Tanner, and Jesse, who have been involved in rodeo since they were kids; together they run the annual Byrne Brothers Bull Riding and Bull Fighting School in their hometown of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Tanner, a bull rider who has to endure eight seconds atop two-ton bucking bulls, and Jesse, a bullfighter who protects riders from danger when they fall off the bull or dismount after a successful ride, will be in New York City January 6-8 for the PBR Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, as professional bull riding — “the toughest eight seconds in sports” — takes over the World’s Most Famous Arena for the eleventh consecutive year. As they prepared for this major event that kicks off the 2017 season, Tanner, twenty-four and married to Meghan, and Jesse, thirty and married to Canadian barrel racer Lauren, reflected on their family, their sport, New York City, and their harrowing run-in with Chocolate Thunder in April 2014.
twi-ny: You both grew up with a father who was a champion bullfighter and a mother who was a barrel racer, and you would all regularly go to the Calgary Stampede. Did you always want to get involved in bull riding?
Tanner Byrne: Yes, I was born into the rodeo and bull riding lifestyle. Tried all sorts of sports and was good at most everything I did, including lacrosse, baseball, basketball. I also played hockey until I was fifteen years old but decided to stick with bull riding. I knew from day one I wanted to be a world champion and follow my one true passion.
Jesse Byrne: Rodeo and bull riding have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I had always wanted to be a cowboy growing up; I loved riding horses, roping, and ranching. As I got older, I tried riding bulls, which didn’t seem to go well with my personality, which is code for, “It scared me!” Once I tried bullfighting, I knew right away what I wanted to make a career of.
twi-ny: As children, which one of your was more protective of the other, whether playing sports or tussling with other kids? Did you fight with each other a lot, and if so, who would usually win?
TB: I’d say as the older one Jesse was more protective of me and always has had my back, looking out for me whenever I was in trouble. If he thought I was doing something too young to do, he always let me know. As for fighting, I have a much bigger reach and height advantage on him now. I think I’d fare OK. But I’ve seen him take some solid hits in the arena and wouldn’t want to fight him, that’s for sure. We are lucky enough to be three brothers who are all best friends. As we got older, we grew closer together as buddies and brothers. We all have a really good relationship, unlike lots of brother combos I know.
JB: Growing up, I was always pretty protective of others, I guess. I’ve never been the biggest person. But what I lacked in size I made up for with heart. If someone was trying to attack, it wasn’t going to go unchallenged as far as I was concerned. Being a far bit older than Tanner, we never really fought amongst each other as typical brothers would, which I’m thankful for, as it didn’t take him long to have the reach advantage over me. One thing I know for sure, if you mess with one of us, you are going to have to deal with us both.
twi-ny: In April 2014, you were both involved in a dangerous encounter with Chocolate Thunder, with Jesse ultimately jumping on Tanner to shield him from the rampaging bull. At the time, are you both just operating on pure adrenaline, or were you well aware of each other, knowing it was brother and brother fighting off the bull together?
TB: At the time of that incident I was unconscious. I didn’t know what was going down, to tell you the truth. After a couple days and seeing the video replay, I was very appreciative of those guys and knew my brother, Shorty [Gorham], and Frank [Newsom] did everything in their power to get that bull off me like they do for all the riders, day in and day out. I know Jesse treats all of us riders like his brothers, and when any of us goes down he really takes it personally. So I’m sure it was more traumatizing for him to see me down. I was out of it so don’t have much recollection.
JB: Being out there to protect the best bull riders in the world comes with a huge responsibility and a lot of pressure. When you then add family to the mix, it definitely creates a unique situation. However, the difference in my mind when it comes to Tanner lies more in his success than safety. I get nervous and excited about the outcome, just being closer to him than any of the other riders and seeing firsthand what he puts into the sport. No matter who comes out of the chute, it’s my job to do absolutely whatever I can to get them out of there as safe as possible. It all comes down to reaction; there’s really no time to think in those moments.
twi-ny: Do you have favorite bulls?
TB: Yes, I do. I like the bulls that I can get the best scores on and the bulls I’ve won the most money on! Some stand out due to riding them at special events. There’s a bull called Compact who I rode at my first event in the championship round that ultimately got me on the PBR Built Ford Tough Series tour, and the rest is history. I also rode that bull again at the World Finals in Las Vegas that led to a top-three finish and lots of money. So my favorites are ones I have a personal history with.
I was recently in contact with Compact’s owner, trying to buy him once his bucking career is over to retire him on my ranch. He’ll live out his days in luxury. He was good to me; I want to be good to him. As a bull owner myself, I’m part of a group, Flying Four Bucking Bulls, raising our own bucking bulls. I’m really fond of growing our young bulls from calves, seeing them grow up and develop as buckers, and go on in their bucking careers.
JB: I’m a huge bull riding fan, and getting to see it up close week in and week out I have the utmost respect for the bulls. They are amazing athletes with a crazy amount of power and agility. It’s always exciting to watch the elite, and when you see the likes of bulls such as Air Time, Long John, and Bruiser, to name a few, you just never know what to expect. But it will definitely be something you remember.
twi-ny: What is the worst injury you’ve suffered from a bull?
TB: Lots of bumps and bruises and broken bones but, “knock on wood,” I’ve been fairly lucky compared to others injury-wise. My knees and wrist give me lots of trouble with torn ligaments that are common with bull riding. It’s nerve-wracking coming back after an injury, but I let my training and my work ethic give me the confidence to know I’ve got what it takes to ride at this level.
JB: Obviously the danger factor is quite high with bullfighting. Like everyone else in the sport, I’ve had injuries to deal with. A few minor surgeries and definitely some broken bones but nothing major in comparison to others. I think the hardest part about injury is not knowing how much your body can take and having to wait to come back to get your answer. It’s not something you can simulate before stepping off into live action.
twi-ny: Tanner, you previously mentioned also playing lacrosse, baseball, and basketball. What other sports did you play as children, along with Bo?
TB: Any sport or athletic event we could do we did. Our parents helped us in all sports and aspects of life. We never were forced into bull riding, probably more pushed to other things like hockey. But we all loved bull riding and rodeo, and with a dad who is a superstar, you grow up wanting to do what your hero did. Like having a dad who played in the NHL or NFL, you’re never forced to do the same, but it’s what you know from day one and all we ever wanted to be. I played a lot of hockey and was a good prospect. Played until I was fifteen and quit when my bull riding and hockey collided. I ultimately had to choose between the two. Josh Manson, one of my best friends and teammates since we were little kids, went on and is now playing in the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks.
JB: Since I grew up in Canada, hockey was a big part of my childhood as well. Rodeo in the summer, hockey in the winter. I also enjoyed playing baseball. However, its season overlapped with rodeo, so it was one or the other, and, well, I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. These days I’m still a fan of both hockey and baseball, and I enjoy getting out for the odd round of golf.
twi-ny: During your off-week from the Built Ford Tough Series each May, you both take part in the Byrne Brothers Bull Riding and Bull Fighting School. What kind of programs are at the school? Is it open to everyone, or do you need some experience?
TB: Yes, we are proud to give back and help everyone we can with the knowledge and work ethic it took for us to get to this top level coming out of Canada and doing well in our fields of riding and fighting. We teach the basics and mindset and try to share everything we know and have in our power to help everyone from advanced riders to rookies to first-timers thinking it would be fun to get on a bull. It’s a fun-filled weekend, and we’re proud to see our students pursuing their careers and succeeding in this sport.
JB: We accept students of all experience levels. If it’s your first time, we provide an introduction to the sport in the safest way possible, teaching the proper basics from day one. If you are experienced and trying to take your skills to the next level, we will work on fine-tuning your approach and eliminating bad habits. Not to forget the mental aspect, which everyone of all skill levels must continuously work on. It’s fun to be able to contribute to the future of our sport and share the passion.
twi-ny: When you’re not involved with bull riding and bullfighting, which seems to be almost constantly, what other things do you like to do?
TB: I love to be home in Canada with my family. We have cattle and bucking bulls, so that always keeps us busy. We love horseback riding and roping. Between events, when my wife and baby daughter, Layla, are able to come with me, we tour around and are tourists everywhere we go. They’re my biggest support, and I owe the world to them. I’m involved in some real estate ventures and different businesses, setting up for life after bull riding, so when I’m not riding I’m always staying busy with one thing or another.
JB: For the last twelve years, bull riding has consumed the majority of my time, if not at an event, traveling to get to the next one. The weeks get pretty short, but I’m thankful to be able to go home for even just a day or two and reconnect with family. Give the senses a break from all the action, let the body recover, and enjoy the calm before it’s back to action.
twi-ny: You’ll be in New York City January 6-8 for the Monster Energy Buck Off. Are the crowds at the Garden different from those at other venues?
TB: I can’t wait! There’s nothing bigger than Madison Square Garden. The crowds are great; they don’t see it often, so they usually get loud and wild. There’s always people we don’t see at other events in New York.
JB: New York is without a doubt one of my favorite events of the year. I get excited just thinking about being able to start our season in one of the most legendary buildings in the world. The passion and energy the fans of NYC bring is contagious.
twi-ny: Do you have time to take in any of the city, and if so, what are some of your favorite things to do here?
TB: I’ve seen lots of popular tourist spots, but the ones that stand out would be the 9/11 Memorial, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and Wall Street. And obviously there’s a lot of shopping when my wife comes with me. I love New York; the atmosphere of it is like nothing else I’ve seen.
JB: I typically find myself arriving a day earlier than a usual event or even departing a day later after it’s over just to take in all the city has to offer. Whether it be Broadway for a musical, touring the shopping districts, or spoiling myself at one of my favorite steakhouses, you can bet you won’t catch me spending much time in my hotel room.
twi-ny: Finally, Tanner, last year I interviewed Cooper Davis, and he went on to win the PBR championship. How do you like your chances for MSG and the season?
TB: I’m planning on the same fate as Cooper! I’ve stepped up my training regimen with my team, Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team, which is owned by NFL superstar Jared Allen. And I’ve dedicated myself to winning a world championship this year. I believe I have a really good shot in MSG this year and as the winner this year in the PBR as a whole. I’m looking forward to the 2017 season.