The whistle blows the same for each bull blasting out of the pen, rider in tow. For some, it’s that eight-second battle and the chance to beat 90 that keeps them hooked on bull riding.
Bryan Ely grew up in a rodeo family in Emory. Both his parents rode, his father ran bulls and his mother ran barrels — Bryan Heflin, his namesake, was a bull rider out of Oklahoma.
“We were in it every night, every day, every weekend,” Ely said. “They’d haul us up and down the road for as long as I can remember. It’s just in our blood.”
He started where many other bull-riding kids did — riding calves, steers, junior bulls and eventually senior bulls. He went on to become professional and was riding four or five times a weekend.
He came to Lufkin in 1989 for the first Big Tex Agriplex Bull Bash when he was 19 years old. At the time, he was broke and looking for a big win. He entered the bash with his last $100 and took second overall, winning $4,000.
“It’s the adrenaline rush and winning money,” Ely said as the reason he stayed with it so long. “You ride well, you win. … I took second. So I won four grand that month and never looked back.”
Ely made it to the American Junior Rodeo Association finals in bull riding 1984-85. In 1986 Ely made Cajun Rodeo Association finals in bull riding and was named Rookie of the Year. In 1987 and 1988 he was the Lone Star High School Rodeo Association Championship bull rider, went to finals in the Texas Rodeo Association and CRA the same year. In 1989, the same year he took second at the Bull Bash, he made the CRA and TPRA finals.
Ely rode until he started a family, then he left the arena to care for his children. He had four children of his own when he met his wife, Staci Lynn. She also had four children of her own, together they created a family of 10.
The couple started dating in 2016, the same time Ely made a comeback in bull riding. She reached out over Facebook and they haven’t been apart since their first date, Ely said.
“I’ve been smitten on her since eighth grade,” he said. “ She asked me out on a date and I said ‘Oh yeah, I’ll go out.’ So we’ve been together ever since that night. Just a good old love story.”
Their first date ended up being at a rodeo in Athens, where a friend told Ely he was entered to ride. Ely showed up with only a glove and borrowed the rest of his gear from other riders. He went to finals that year in Senior Professional Bull Riding.