first round of the New York City Unleash the Beast PBR. Photo by Andy Watson
Cord McCoy has long been known as a bronc and bull rider and a reality TV star. Now, he’s raising bulls to new heights.
BY BAILEY BELTRAMO
Stadium lights illuminate red dirt on the McCoy Ranch in Atoka, Oklahoma, on a warm May night. The hum of cicadas breaks with prehistoric sounding bellows and snorts: Midnight Rock, a 1,200-pound bull phenom paws the ground inside the arena. With a clang of scraping metal and a thud of boots on dirt, ranch owner Cord McCoy deftly drops into the ring. Keeping a respectful eye locked on Midnight Rock, McCoy moves the bull into small laps around the arena. It’s well after 9 p.m., but not yet time for him to hang his well-worn hat for the day—there’s still work to be done.
McCoy’s worn many hats over the years: he was a champion saddle-bronc rider at 16, making him the youngest competitor to win the all-around title at the International Finals Rodeo, and winning five professional rodeo titles along the way.
He’s pulled down the brim of the reality-TV-star hat as he and older brother Jet became fan-favorites on the CBS show The Amazing Race for three seasons.
He’s worn the hat of motivational speaker on the TEDx stage in Big Sky, Montana, and he’s raised his “hat” (in actuality, a helmet) countless times in the Professional Bull Riding arena after matching a ferocious bull like Deuces Wild move for move for eight seconds.
Now at 40, McCoy wears a different hat: the hat of a premiere stock contractor. And, true to tradition, it’s still wide-brimmed and white.
A LIFE OF RODEO
Raised in Tupelo, Oklahoma, Cord McCoy began rodeoing as a child, quickly developing a skillset that put him on a path to the professional circuit.
That path, however, came to a dangerous halt at the Oklahoma State Fair Rodeo in 2004. McCoy was unseated from a bucking horse and dealt a kick to the side of the head. The wreck nearly cost him his life and left him relearning to walk and talk again.
Grit and an undying love for the sport allowed McCoy to not just recover but to return to a professional level of riding. After his accident, he traded in his bronc saddle for a bull rope and went on to compete professionally in the PBR, earning six trips to the World Finals and a spot on Team USA.
In those first few years on the PBR tour, McCoy unintentionally began his stock contracting career. “When I first started raising and training bulls, I was training them for me,” he explains. “I was getting on the bulls to practice.”
McCoy started occasionally selling bulls to other contractors as well, but the official switch in profession came a couple years down the road at a rodeo in Decatur, Texas, in 2013. He showed up with his bull rope and a few mighty beasts. He walked away from his ride without a paycheck while one of his bulls left the arena with one. That was when things clicked.
Handed a check for $4,500 that his body didn’t need to cash, McCoy couldn’t help but question why he was still riding. “I probably retired a year later than I should have,” he admits, but focusing on contracting offered a way forward that would keep him connected to the sport he loves. He hung up the bull rope for good and became a full-time stock contractor that same day.
A NEW DIRECTION
That was in 2016. Since then, McCoy has progressed in his own training techniques, but a notable change over the past years has been the advanced nutrition and care that have become the bedrock of bull training; training that allows the bulls themselves to find more success in the arena.
This new era of animal athletes is largely coming about by means of people like Melissa McKeithen and David Clark who’ve stepped into the sport as financial partners.
And the influx of new financial resources is causing a domino effect. Increased investment in bulls means a greater population of top-tier stock for cowboys to practice on. More practice at an elite level leads to improved performance which leads to growth and progression of the sport.
“It’s not unusual to get on a bull in a practice pen that you could be 90 points on [in competition],” McCoy says. “As long as [the riders] can practice on that level, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of what they can do yet. The bulls don’t know they’re practicing. It would be like practicing with Mike Tyson and not telling him it’s for fun.”
“The bulls don’t know they’re practicing. It would be like practicing with Mike Tyson and not telling him it’s for fun.”
In McCoy’s operation, he sells 50 percent interest of his bulls to partners. From Australia to England, the Northeast to the Midwest, they come from all walks of life. “It’s the craziest bunch of partners you’ve ever seen in your life,” he says, flashing an affectionate grin.
In addition to the sale price, partners contribute a $200 monthly boarding and training fee, and cover all event entry fees. In exchange, they get a 50-50 split of any winnings, proceeds from semen sales (another novel revenue source in the bull industry), and an intangible return on investment, one that’s personal to each partner.
For Clark, it’s largely about the communal and familial aspects. Born in the U.S. but raised in England, Clark didn’t experience his first rodeo until 2016, when he attended a Missoula event while visiting the famed E Bar L Ranch in Greenough, Montana. He was hooked.
“I loved it. The family atmosphere, the patriotism, the show, the bravery of the riders, it was all just amazing,” he remembers. “It was beautiful.”
A chance encounter with a friend at the Big Sky PBR first introduced Clark to the idea of investing in bulls. Soon after, a partnership of 10 friends formed under the name Shotgun Bulls to pay tribute to Clark’s father-in-law’s call sign as an F-15 pilot who was a Montanan by birth and a former rodeo athlete himself.
Shotgun Bulls has since been renamed Pioneer Bulls and now sponsors a string of four bovines from McCoy’s ranch. Their prized athlete, Midnight Rock, is currently ranked 16th in the world standings with an average buck-off time of 2.62 seconds and an average score of 44.46 out of a possible 50 points.
For McKeithen, the intangible piece combines public education and personal enjoyment. A longtime resident of Connecticut, McKeithen has been venturing out to Big Sky, Montana, for the past 25 years, journeys that led to her discovery of rodeo and the PBR. Her knowledge and personal enthrallment with the sport has grown and she loves sharing her passion with friends at home.
“People are just interested in knowing ‘Well, how is it that they get the bulls to buck?’” says McKeithen, who has even introduced a friend that has gone on
to sponsor three bulls from the McCoy ranch. “I’m a very small part in a big and growing sport,” she says.
Like Clark, McKeithen invested through a group venture named Big Sky Bulls that purchased the notorious Viper who went on to win at the Big Sky PBR in 2019. Since then, McKeithen joined McCoy to cosponsor a bull of her own that she proudly named Belligerent.
And for Cord McCoy? Well, he gets what any coach strives for: to focus on developing his athletes to the height of their potential. “As a coach, contractor, trainer, whatever you want to call it, [my goal] is just making each bull the best that he can be,” he explains. It’s a philosophy he can proudly hang his hat on.
Bailey J. Beltramo lives and works in New Hampshire as a content creator, freelance photographer and filmmaker. He ventures west whenever possible to experience Western culture and life under the big skies.