LOVINGTON, N.M. – Eight years ago, the Lea County Fair Board stepped out onto a limb and decided to add the Lea County Xtreme Bulls to the Tuesday night schedule.
The gamble seems to have paid off, with this year’s event set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at Jake McClure Arena in Lovington.
“It’s a big deal here,” said Trey Kerby, chairman of the fair board’s rodeo committee. “We have a lot of people talking about it and getting ready for it.”
What is it about the event that draws people from the rodeo-savvy region?
“I guess it’s just the excitement of bull riding,” said Larry Wheeler, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “When they started it, I didn’t know if it would go over or not, but it has done well. A lot of people are fascinated with bull riding.”
Fans’ reactions to the event has been that way for decades, which is why it’s always been held for last at most rodeos. About 30 years ago, more specialized events focusing on bull riding started to happen, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association developed the Xtreme Bulls Tour in the mid-2000s.
“There are only a few of the top-notch events that I haven’t had the pleasure of winning, and Lovington Xtreme was one of them,” said Sage Kimzey, the reigning five-time world champion bull rider and the 2017 winner in Lovington. “Coming out to Lea County, I had one thing on my mind.”
Kimzey is one of a few former world champions who are expected to be in Lovington this August, and there will be dozens of cowboys in the field that have competed at the National Finals Rodeo. That includes last year’s winner, Jordan Spears, who just missed qualifying for the NFR.
“A win’s important any time, and it doesn’t matter what time of year,” he said. “Over the years, I seem to draw good bulls, and I seem to ride good. It feels good to get a win at a big Xtreme Bulls event like this.”
This is the big time as far as bull riding goes. Lea County Xtreme Bulls has been a Division I event since its inception – only eight of the 55 events on the Xtreme Bulls schedule are at that level.
That’s for a reason. The Division I events offer a larger purse, and that’s just fine with the Lea County Fair Board. Board members realize that in order to produce a good event on Tuesday night of the fair and rodeo, they want to have the elite bull riders in southeast New Mexico for the night.
In fact, the fair board has set up its entertainment lineup with that theory in mind. The board believes Flatland Cavalry, an up-and-coming group that will attract a younger audience, is the perfect mix for that Tuesday night.
But, Kerby said, the key is also having all those cowboys back through the rest of the week at the rodeo.
“We want the cowboys to come, so we want to have a good purse,” Kerby said. “Xtreme Bulls pulls the crowd in. When they can go out there and enjoy bull riding all night long, they really enjoy it, especially if there’s some good rides and some high scores.”