Mountainfilm In Telluride: Char Duran, Bull Rider, In "Queens And Cowboys"

Char Duran, behind the chutes

Char Duran, behind the chutes


Hell Lady, I ain’t no bull rider

Don’t walk funny, OK in the head

But if I ever again get such a damn fool idea

they might as well shoot me instead

That’s the last verse of a song I once wrote not long after my one and only bull ride. At the Townsend, Montana rodeo. When I was surely old enough to know better. When I picked myself up off the ground, checked that all body parts seemed to be working, I grinned and thought, “That was hot! Can’t wait to do it again!” The next morning I saw the video a friend had shot, saw the short time I had been aboard, saw that bull all over my body, felt myself fortunate, decided I wasn’t, wouldn’t be a bull rider.

Char Duran is. She is the real deal. She happens to be a woman. She happens to be a “military brat.” She happens to be lesbian. But what she IS is a bull rider. She also is featured in “Queens and Cowboys,” a documentary about gay rodeo by Matt Livadary and Erin Krozek, being shown at the 2014 Mountainfilm in Telluride.

A few weeks ago, Sus and I were driving back to Telluride from Denver and heard an NPR Fresh Air segment on “Queens and Cowboys” and Char Duran was being interviewed. Sus said that “Q&C” was one of the videos at Mountainfilm this year, so that made the piece that much more engaging. Later I learned that Char would also be attending. I’ve got to do an interview with her, says I to myself.

This would be a good time to talk a little about bulls and bull riding. OK, you say you send money to PETA and you KNOW that the bulls buck and are mean because that flank rope is cinched across the bull’s scrotum. That turns out to be myth. In actuality, these rodeo bulls not only are treated like royalty, they have an active retirement, siring the next generation of rodeo athletes. We should also mention one of the big differences between bulls and broncs– there are mean broncs, but their instinct is not to stomp that rider down in the dirt (usually). Bulls on the other hand don’t respect such niceties. I’ve watched the short video of my one ride many, many times. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, I could swear Speedy Calvert (the name of my bull) was enjoying himself as he trampled my twisting body. In addition, the hide of a brahma (or brahma cross) bull is loose and slides across the muscled back, providing a comfortable seat… until he moves.

And, unlike a bareback bronc rider who has a handle which is cinched to the horse, the bull rider has only a thick rope wrapped around his (or in this case, her) hand to keep human and bull together. The idea is to ratchet the bull rope tight enough in the wrap around her hand so that turning the beast loose is a desperate move. And sometimes the rider might want to bail and not be able to, at which point the human is a toy out on the end of a string. Not pretty. These days the horns are blunted but they are still an impressive weapon, and in any case the head itself is big and hard. The bull fighters on the ground are there to distract the bull once a rider has fallen. They do a great job, often at the risk to their own necks, but the bull has a mind of its own. These terrors must be kept at bay if a bull rider is to be successful, for the ride is not only extremely physical, it is also a mental game between the person and the bull, and not least between the person and herself. It is not enough to complete the ride: to finish in the money one must also look good doing it. And the bull must perform in order for the rider to look good.

Char Duran has been riding for nearly a quarter of a century. She has a list of injuries that would put a NFL running back to shame. But she keeps on getting back on. I ran across this quote from Duran: “You know you’re a bull rider when, that moment you hit the ground, you get back up and want to do it again.”

I believe one more quotation from her should serve as an inspiration for life in general: “So if you have ever put your heart and soul and life on the line for something you truly want, you will understand the heart of a bull rider. If not, find the passion that will get you there and make it YOUR bull.”

See Char Duran in “Queens and Cowboys” at Mountainfilm in Telluride later this month, and listen to my interview with this smart, funny, driven woman.

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