Let 'er buck: Local teen launches bull-riding business

Apr. 17—When Korbin Baldwin isn't in class at the vo-ag center, or on the wrestling mats at Flathead High School, he is likely having a bull session with Whiskey, Tumbleweed, Flat White and Dust Demon.

The 17-year-old's business, Baldwin Bucking Bulls, was born in July 2023, and after months of preparation, 10 bulls arrived in late summer.

He's got a hand in all aspects of the bucking bull business, from contracting and breeding to training and riding. So far, he has eight public events scheduled for this year and in the fall, Baldwin's ranch will be the setting for a private party with over 100 guests.

Arguably, Baldwin Bucking Bull's most exciting offering is Bucket List Bull Riding. For $250, anyone can have the experience of riding a bull bred from champion bloodlines. Baldwin provides all the instruction, equipment and encouragement a first-timer needs to have a genuine cowboy adventure.

"People love it," Baldwin said. "It's exciting."

He has bullfighters and a crew that runs the back pen. A photographer is also on hand to provide riders with photos to keep the once-in-a-lifetime exploit fresh in their memory.

While Baldwin acknowledges the activity is dangerous, he has not had to administer medical care, after over 100 rides by everyone from first-timers to professionals, thus far at his facility.

He said there are more safety precautions in the sport now that make it much safer than it used to be, including specialized helmets and vests.

"It's ironic — everyone's worried about the horns, but 95% of the time you get hurt, it's from getting stepped on," he said. "You hardly ever get hit by the horns."

Part of his stellar safety record can be credited to Baldwin's ability to hand-select the appropriate bull for each rider.

"Most of the bulls that I have for the first-timers are super nice in the chute," he said. "They go in the chute, they know their job and they just buck a guy off in two seconds."

Riders can buy the Bucket List Bull Riding experience alone or come with a group of no more than three. Of course, more people can come to watch.

"The entire experience probably lasts about two and a half hours for one person," he explained. "If it's a group, it's a little bit longer."

Baldwin frequently begins by sharing a video that shows riders what to do prior to giving them the safety precautions. He also utilizes a bucking barrel to help folks get a feel for the motion.

"We size up their gear; make sure everything fits. They'll get a mouthguard, helmet, vest and chaps — the whole deal," Baldwin said. "We load a bull up and I get on the bull first and walk them through the entire chute procedure.

"Then, they get on and go for it and that's pretty much it," he added. "Most people are one and done."

The majority of first-time riders fall off after the first buck or spin but Baldwin said some guys who are involved in the martial arts or boxing did a little bit better due to their ability to think on their feet.

"If you haven't done anything that's really quick, then the entire thing is like a flash to most people," he said.

IT'S WIDELY believed that a rider needs to get on 100 bulls before they develop the muscle memory needed for success in the sport.

"The first two seconds, almost for everyone, is muscle memory and if you can set yourself perfectly in that first two seconds, then you can start thinking for the rest of the ride and getting over him and setting your hips back and forth," Baldwin said as he mimicked the movements in the air.

Since graduating to big bulls, Baldwin has ridden about 300 head. He rode steers previously, and sheep before that. He said the difference between riding a steer and riding a bull is huge because of the tremendous increase in muscle and force.

"Around here, you start getting on big bulls when you're about 14 1/2 , 15," he said. "So, you start pretty early but it just makes you a lot better of a bull rider."

Baldwin won the Brash Winter Series Rodeo at the Majestic Valley Arena this year. He competes in high school rodeo and is traveling to rodeos nearly every weekend.

A concussion kept Baldwin from competing at the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas last year, but in 2022, he competed at the world-class event and took 14th. Recently, he won a direct qualifier, locking in his ticket for the Junior World Finals this December.

"That's the end-of-the-year, really fun thing — go down with friends and family and everyone comes and watches," he said. "And it's a big deal if you win it — there are a lot of people watching, colleges and stuff."

A full-ride scholarship to college might be on Baldwin's horizon but as a high school junior, he still has time to consider his options.

"College rodeo is a huge thing. There's also pro rodeo," he said. "It depends how good I am when I graduate and how the business is going, how my life is going."

Baldwin attended elementary and middle school in Whitefish. He chose to go to Flathead High School in Kalispell to take advantage of the agriculture education program at the H.E Robinson Ag Center.

He is also on the wrestling team and was a state qualifier for the Braves this year. His efforts did not go unnoticed by Flathead wrestling's head coach Jeff Thompson.

"Korbin is such a well rounded young man and just seems to be successful in every arena," said Thompson. "He was so busy this winter that he would finish up a wrestling tournament on Friday or a Saturday and immediately leave right after his last match to make the rodeo on time.

"Korbin is just wired to be an entrepreneur and with his work ethic, he, no doubt, will be successful," Thompson added.

AS FOR THE other parts of his business, Baldwin has three heifers with good bucking bloodlines who will be bred this June. He plans on keeping some of the newly born heifers and bulls and selling some.

While the bulls are bred to be buckers, he uses two weighted, remote control dummies to train the bulls.

"They have the muscle to be able to do it but you have to get it in their mind to do it the right way," he said. "If they come out and start spinning left, hit the left button and the dummy falls off on the right side. Bulls get used to that."

He said sometimes, riders will try to cheat and lean left, the way they expect the bull to go, but the bull will feel that, change it up and go right.

"They're a lot smarter than people think," he said of the bulls and nodded to Dust Demon who knows how to open the gate with his horns.

Baldwin is quick to point out that the flank strap does not, as commonly thought, contact the bull's testicles. He said it is not put on tight, either, and compared it to a belt a person would wear.

"It's just around their hips and it's just like a foreign object on their hips for them to try to kick off," he said. "They are literally trying to kick it off and it makes their kicks bigger and more even. It really helps them get the rider off of them."

THE TEENAGE entrepreneur is also using twenty-first century technology to help keep a centuries old tradition, rough stock rodeo, alive and kicking.

He is making a name for himself and his business via Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms. His Instagram following has grown from 1,000 last year to nearly 120,000.

Baldwin gets about 50 messages on Instagram every day from kids asking how to sign up for rodeo.

"Pretty much every rodeo I go to there are little kids that are steer riders or even younger that are excited to meet me and take pictures and ask for tips and stuff like that," he said. "It's super fun and exciting. The young kids are the future."

Baldwin Bucking Bulls is located at the KM Ranch Arena 7 miles from Whitefish and 14 miles from Kalispell. For more information find them on social media or call 406-209-8969.