Tahlequah's Caden Bunch might be the next big name in bull riding to come from Oklahoma
Ryan Dirteater of Hulbert has been known as the "Cherokee Kid" on the PBR for more than a decade. Dirteater is planning to retire after this year, but another young bull rider from the Cherokee Nation is waiting in the wings.
Caden Bunch, 17, of Tahlequah, might be the next big name in bull riding from Oklahoma. On Friday night, Bunch will get his first shot to defend his national high school bull riding title when the 2020 National High School Finals Rodeo begins at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie.
If Bunch repeats as champ, he would be the first bull rider in the 70-year history of the rodeo to win it twice. Only three Oklahoma high school cowboys were national bull riding champions before Bunch's victory last year in Wyoming: Jimmy Morris in 1989, Lane Frost in 1981 and Marvin Shoulders, son of the legendary Jim Shoulders, in 1969.
"At 17 years old, he is getting on bulls that I take to the PBR that them guys at the PBR don't even ride, and he rides 'em," said L.J. Jenkins, of Porum, a former bull rider and now stock contractor.
Bunch has accompanied Jenkins on trips to bull riding events in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri in recent weeks.
"He's kind of getting me ready for everything, all the big stuff," Bunch said.
Jenkins was in Bunch's shoes, so to speak, about 15 years ago. Jenkins turned pro at age 18. At age 19, he won the 2006 PBR World Finals. He is one of only three bull riders to win both the PBR World Finals and the National Finals Rodeo.
Bunch turns 18 in March and will be making a decision about his bull riding future. He could join the PBR or PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), or both, or go to college and ride for a collegiate rodeo team.
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Bunch is currently home schooled because he is on the road going to rodeos or bull riding events every weekend. He still has a junior and senior year left to complete and his mother, Jeannie Bunch, is trying "to keep him slowed down a little bit. That's our deal. He is going to finish high school no matter what."
Bunch said upon turning 18 he plans to buy his PBR card. His older brother, Cannon Cravens, now rides on the PBR Tour. Bunch also might test his mettle in the PRCA where another Oklahoma bull rider, Sage Kimzey, has won six straight world titles.
Whatever Bunch chooses, Jenkins said the key to his future success is staying healthy. Now, bull riders at Bunch's age might get on one really rank bull per month, but when Bunch turns pro, he will be riding those powerful bulls on a regular basis, Jenkins said.
"Getting on them every single weekend takes a toll on your body and that's where you really see how a kid is going to end up," Jenkins said. "How is he going to react when he does get hurt? How is he going to bounce back?"
So far, the extent of Bunch's injuries from bull riding is one fractured ankle and one fractured elbow.
Bunch seems ready to take the step up to the professional level. He has won numerous bull riding titles in junior high and high school, including the Junior NFR championship during The American Rodeo at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in February.
His championship belt buckles "are stacked in piles and piles in my house," Jeannie Bunch said. "He's probably (won) eight saddles, maybe 10."
Riding bulls is all Bunch has ever wanted to do.
"We bought a bucking machine when I was younger and I would get on it every day," he said.
Jenkins won't be surprised if Bunch becomes the next big name in professional bull riding.
"I think he's got what it takes as long as he takes care of himself," Jenkins said. "I haven't seen a kid that rides as good as he does in a long time."
On the possibility of becoming the next "Cherokee Kid" on the PBR Tour, Bunch said he would be fine with the moniker.
"I think it would be pretty cool," he said.
If you go
What: National High School Finals Rodeo
Where: Lazy E Arena near Guthrie
When: Friday through Thursday; One performance on Friday (7 p.m.), then two performances daily at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. through Thursday
Cost: $110 for week-long pass for adults and $55 for ages 5 to 12 (paid in advance); $15 day pass for adults; $10 day pass for ages 5-12