By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The longest 8 seconds
Bulloch man practices bull riding hobby in Ludowici
Baggett Web
Smith Baggett, an insurance agent with State Farm in Statesboro, works up quite a sweat while bull riding.
     The 1994 movie "8 Seconds" announced the rise of the sport of bull riding, and here in Statesboro there is another rider trying to hang on for eight seconds as he practices his technique in nearby Ludowici.
      Local boy Smith Baggett took the Statesboro Herald with him during one of his practice sessions down at the N.C. Ranch in Ludowici. He comes from three generations of cowboys, having worked the cows and the land at his family's black Angus cattle ranch off of Pulaski Highway. It seemed a natural progression to get interested in the rodeo.
      "I had some friends that were into it and it caught my interest," Baggett said. "I attended a rodeo school in Fayetteville, N.C. and learned all the basics, safe chute procedures, and all the techniques for riding bulls. Once I got all my equipment, I just started entering rodeos and getting on practice bulls - the rest is history."
      Smith, who is an insurance agent for State Farm in Statesboro, said he plans to take on bare back bronc riding in the next couple of months. When he's done with bulls and broncos, he wants to become a bull fighter, commonly known as a rodeo clown, to "save a few cowboys."
      "Bull fighters - we call them our guardian angels," Baggett said. "They know the bulls, but the main thing is when you come off the bulls, (the bull rider) is not in control, the bull fighter is."
      Baggett was accompanied to his practice session by bull fighter, Jason "Woody" Wamba. Woody used to be a bull rider but suffered extensive injuries including six broken ribs and massive bruising when his bull fighter was, as he put it, distracted by a pretty face in the audience. As a result, Woody has a passion for making sure his bull riders have someone watching their back.
      "They know if they're hung up, I'm there for ‘em," Woody said. "It's a full team - your riders have to trust you. In the (Professional Bull Riders) finals, the riders actually pick their own bull fighters, the ones they trust the most."
      Woody explained the importance of being a competent bull fighter, how to react to the bulls and what to do if a rider gets hung up.
      "If their hand gets hung up in the bull rope, you've got to be able to get to the bull and pull the tail (of the rope) to free their hand," Woody said. "There are some hang-ups where the rider gets their foot hung up in the rope - their spur is hung up in the rope - and the bull drags them around the arena."
      After his run, Baggett is breathing hard and sweating like he just completed a 30-minute workout. How can such a short time be so exhausting?
      "Eight seconds doesn't seem long, but that chute opens in slow motion when you nod your head and that first jump is like thunder tearing out," Baggett said. "It's crazy, it moves in slow motion. It's the longest eight seconds of your life."
      Following the practice run, Smith and Woody get together to dissect the run, deciding what he did right, figuring out how to correct what he did wrong and trying to come up with a strategy for the next ride.
      "That's why you get on practice bulls - to try and correct your mistakes," Baggett said. "(The bull) does what he's supposed to do - throw you off. He doesn't want you there to begin with."
      Nino Ciccone is the owner of the N.C. Ranch, which holds an amateur rodeo at the beginning of every month. He even holds an annual charity rodeo at his ranch to help support the local school system.
      "The first weekend of the month we have a rodeo. We have bare-back, calf-roping, team roping, barrel racing, junior barrel racing, steer riding, mutton bust - all of the events," Ciccone said. "Everyone has a good time."
      The N.C. Ranch is located right off Highway 57 just outside of Ludowici. To get there from Statesboro, head south on US-301 for about 60 miles, then turn left at the only stoplight in town. The ranch is about three miles down on the north side of Highway 57. For more information, call (912) 545-9542.
      Baggett said the group's entering rodeos would not be possible without their sponsors, Casey's Corral Western Wear, Baggett Farms, Dixie Livestock, Andersons General store, Ronnie Barron, T-B-M Farm Supply and Brooke Bowen photography.
      Baggett, Woody and Ciccone all said that the monthly rodeo is an enjoyable afternoon suitable for families. They also said it's a positive youth activity that helps keep the kids out of trouble.
      "It's such a big for me for young people to get involved in rodeo," Baggett said. "With all the stuff going on (for kids) rodeo is a pretty positive activity, still family-oriented and a good time."
Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter