Cole Fischer takes the bull by the horns.
From the moment Cole Fischer rode a bull, he was hooked. Adrenaline was pumping through his veins, a rush unlike anything he felt before. His first experience riding only lasted a matter of seconds, but it changed his life forever.
Cole got on a bull for the first time at the Cowboy Youth Bull Riders Association Rodeo, in Rolla. Most other riders had spent their lives gradually preparing to ride a 2,000-pound beast — starting with sheep in their childhood and then working their way up to calves and junior bulls.
“The first time was more about the adrenaline rush,” Cole says. “It’s hard to get that anywhere else. To get on an animal that big is pretty wild, and honestly, I probably had my eyes closed the whole time.”
Bull riding was never going to be a hobby or a side gig for Cole. It demands nothing less than a full-time commitment. With his instantaneous passion for bull riding, Cole sold the lawn care company he started in high school to become a professional bull rider. Now, he’s one of the best bull riders in the country. As of late June, he was ranked 37th nationally.
Born to Be Wild
Growing up in Jefferson City, Cole was the second child of four boys in a racing family. When his mother, Dina, met his father, Curt, in 1987, Curt was competing in mud races across the country and raced monster trucks. The Fischer family spent much of their free time throughout the boys’ adolescence watching or participating in races at dirt tracks.
“It’s what we did in the summer — hauled around and went to races,” Cole says.
When a family friend died in a racing accident, Cole decided to step away from the track. Then, leading up to his 21st birthday, Cole was flipping through the pages of the Jefferson City News Tribune when he noticed an ad for bull riding at a rodeo in Rolla. He called the Cowboy Youth Bull Riders Association to find out the requirements and talked with a friend about where to borrow the gear.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he says. “We weren’t a rodeo family. We never went to a rodeo.”
Initially, his parents were against Cole’s decision. Knowing the life-and-death dangers of the sport, they were scared about the potential harm their son could face in the arena.
“Mom wasn’t really for it, but she wanted me to be happy so she just went along with it,” Cole says. “Dad was a little more against it. He didn’t really realize I wanted to make a career out of it at the time, but they’ve all come along and seen how seriously I take it. They’ve helped me out tremendously.”
Dina Fischer says that, despite her fears, there was no stopping her son from bull riding.
“Cole was always the kid that was going to do things on his terms,” Dina says. “We could talk until we’re blue in the face about injuries, but it’s absolutely what he loves to do. They know when they get in a car or get on that bull, it could be their last time. There’s nothing else they want to do. It makes them feel happy, makes them feel alive, and you can’t take it away from them.”
Grabbing the Bull by the Horns
Because he started riding bulls later than the typical professional bull rider, Cole says he always felt he was a little behind the rest. But even in his early years as a bull rider, he never let that be an excuse and used his inexperience to drive him to be better.
To catch up, Cole had to ride bulls much more frequently.
“There aren’t many guys who ride more than I do,” Cole says. “Bull riding is a very short career. If you want to do it, you have to do it right and outwork everybody else.”
To go from never riding a bull to riding one or two bulls in 100 to 120 rodeos a year was no easy feat. The progression has required an incredible amount of dedication, which includes studying his rides, training, and taking time to heal from injuries.
“He’s very determined,” Dina says. “I’ve never really seen him so determined to try and be better at what he does. If he’s not riding bulls or driving to a rodeo, he’s at a gym working out, or he’s practicing riding on bucking bulls. He does everything for his body to try to keep it healthy.”
Luckily, Cole has always had professional bull rider and friend Austin Martin on his side. At the beginning of Cole’s career, Austin, 31, of Russellville, took him under his wing, and Cole still sends Martin videos of him riding for tips and advice.
“No matter what he does, he takes it on head-first and really goes at everything,” Austin says. “His bull riding, especially, has been an example of that, considering his injuries. He’s tough.”
Cole says that learning how to ride has been very rough, and over the years, he’s sustained a detached tricep, suffered from four broken ribs, had his head stepped on and scalped by a bull, endured reconstructive surgery on his foot (among other procedures), and dislocated his left elbow five times in the past year.
“The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t stop us,” Cole says, referring generally to bull riders.
Like most bull riders, Cole’s first years at the sport were also a financial struggle. Cole says the initial expenses of bull riding are costly, and bull riders don’t tend to make much money in their first few years. Traveling from rodeo to rodeo in various states throughout the country can become a financial burden.
“If you’re not winning, the bills add up,” Cole says, emphasizing that he’s grateful to have Jefferson City sponsors who support him.
Fortunately, Cole started traveling with fellow bull riders Dakota Eagleburger and Gavin Michel to split travel costs. Not only does traveling with his bull riding buddies help with finances, but they also lift each other up during tough times.
Despite the physical and financial hardships, Cole can’t imagine doing anything else.
“What pulled me in was the challenge,” Cole says. “I’ve been riding for about eight years now, and I’m still learning every day. It’s not something you can perfect. You’re always going to buck off bulls. They’re all different shapes and sizes and they all do different things. They’re wild animals. You never know what they’re going to do.”
Going for the Gold Buckle
Cole doesn’t have time to think in the eight seconds he’s riding a bull. There’s not a moment to strategically decide the next move. He relies on his training and the muscle memory he’s developed over hundreds of rides to push him through and impress the judges.
“Honestly, I’m just giving it everything I got,” Cole says. “A lot of the bulls, they’re out to kill you. If you don’t go at them with the same mindset, they’re going to beat you every time. Things happen so fast that you can’t think about how the bull’s going left, so I need to make this move to counter that. It happens so fast you can’t think.”
Ahead of the 2019 season, Cole Fischer set the goal of becoming that year’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Great Lakes champion. The annual competition brings together the best cowboys and cowgirls in the PRCA Great Lakes circuit in eight different events, including bull riding, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling. The circuit comprises Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
For the first part of the year, Cole struggled. For two months, he couldn’t stay on a bull for the full eight seconds, and because of that, he wasn’t making a paycheck. But at a rodeo in Elizabeth, Colorado, Cole’s outlook for the season took a positive turn. Though his score was low, he rode the bull for the full eight seconds and started gaining his momentum back. At the next rodeo, in Wisconsin, he won.
Cole went on to accomplish his goal and earned the PRCA Great Lakes title.
“It was God’s timing,” Cole says. “It all happened for a reason, all at the right time.”
After the 2020 season was put on hold, Cole set a goal to make it to the Professional Bull Riding finals in Las Vegas, where the top 15 bull riders in the world compete.
He hopes to someday become the PBR world champion. For him, winning the gold buckle would make all the struggles, hardships, and sacrifices worthwhile.