When the Professional Bull Riders make their appearance at Albany’s MVP Arena on Thursday and Friday, the contingent will be led by a New Yorker.
Daylon Swearingen, from the Livingston County town of Piffard, about three miles northwest of Geneseo, became the first rider from New York to earn the title of PBR World Champion in 2022. Swearingen, 23, stayed on his bulls 26 of 60 times (.433) throughout the 2022 season and earned $1.69 million. He was just the seventh rider in the league’s 29-year history to win both the World Finals and the World Championship title.
Swearingen’s entire family has been involved in rodeo, so as he said, the profession chose him. He said his 2022 season was a combination of skill and good luck.
“I’ve made some progress over the years, but you get banged up,” Swearingen said by telephone. “It’s been a struggle, but I was fortunate to have it all work out.”
Swearingen is part of the PBR’s Elite/Premier Series, and he’s one of up to 40 competitors at events. Riders typically get two rides on the first night, and then if they qualify for the finals, one ride on the second night. They must stay on the bull for eight seconds, but there also are judges who determine both how well the rider and bull performed.
Because the series crosses America, some of the bulls are “regulars,” but others are regional ones.
It’s an accepted notion that all professional athletes practice, but the idea of getting on an animal weighing 1,500 pounds or more who doesn’t want you on him in the first place is a hard one for most folks to swallow. And when riders do practice, Swearingen said it’s never a controlled environment.
“When you’re on a bull,” he said, “it’s going to play out however it’s going to play out. I think it’s mostly mental. That eight seconds we’re on a bull, you can’t be thinking about strategy, you just have to let your mind go to a place that gets you through it.”
It’s a random draw for which riders ride which bulls, and Swearingen said the sport is known for its camaraderie.
“When I’m not riding, I’m going to cheer for all my fellow bull riders. It’s not us against other riders, it’s us against the bulls,” Swearingen said.
Even though they know which bulls they’ll ride a day before, riders have to balance studying a bull’s tendencies with not obsessing over it. After all, they’re animals.
“You can overthink it real easily,” Swearingen cautioned. “Like 2021 World Champion bull Woopaa – he’s known for spinning to the left, and then in the world finals, he spun to the right, which took everyone by surprise. They can change it any time. They can feel the slightest twitch, and it will cause them to do something different.”