VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — How many pounds of berries does one have to pick to earn $1,500?
About 700 pounds, according to 10-year-old Trip Burley, a Fellsmere boy who’s raising money to compete in the 2022 World Championship Miniature Bull Riding World Finals.
When Trip found out his trip to Texas would cost $5,000, he asked his mother how he could help pay for it. She suggested picking saw palmetto berries. So the family obtained a state-required permit in August and he got to work picking on weekends.
Trip also plucked weeds for neighbors to raise money and received donations after his mother posted an appeal on Facebook, allowing him to reach his $1,500 goal.
Trip is a shy, soft-spoken, fifth-grader at North County Charter Elementary School in Vero Beach. But once the nationally ranked rider gets astride a miniature bull, he comes out of his shell for 8 seconds — fueled by the adrenaline of being bucked around by an 800-pound beast while holding on with only one hand.
For Trip to score the maximum 100 points per ride, 8 seconds is how long he has to stay on top of the bull without letting go of the rope or touching the bull or himself with his free hand. Scoring is subjective, with three judges assessing how he controlled the bull.
After six years in the sport, Trip ranked 18 out of 225 in the 2021 International Miniature Bull Riding Association’s World Finals in Reno, Nevada. He hopes to rank again at the competition in Mesquite, Texas, from Oct. 4-9, hosted by the World Champion Mini Bull riding Association.
How to train your bull
Jeannie Burley, who runs the Young Guns Youth Rodeo in Okeechobee, got her son interested in the sport when he was just 2 years old.
He started off riding sheep at the Fellsmere Riding Club in 2013, but that didn’t appeal to him. He moved on to calves when he was 4 and rode them for three years before advancing to miniature bulls, whose maximum height for competition is 4 feet.
Children interested in the sport can start out as young as 6 months old, Burley said. Competitions are categorized by age. In Texas, Trip will be up against 150 kids in his age division of 9 to 11 years old.
Trip tried other recreational activities, such as soccer and basketball, but he always found himself back on the bull.
“I tried all the sports and he wanted to go back to bull riding,” Burley said. “We have done rodeo our whole life, so it (bull riding) is all him.”
Professional Bull Riders
When he’s older, Trip wants to pursue a full-time career as part of the Professional Bull Riders, like his uncle, Buckshot Morrison.
“He told me to get on (a bull) one day,” Trip said of his uncle. “It is fun and I like it a lot.”
Trip practices about twice a month, either at the Fellsmere Riding Club or the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s arena. He typically competes three weekends a month, but once the season begins in October, Trip can find himself competing every weekend.
Because Trip is shy, making friends at school has been challenging, his mother said. But at competitions, he’s surrounded by fellow riders who become fast friends, she said.
“They just run off and they click. I guess it’s because they’re in the same thing,” Burley said. “He goes off with his friends, they do their thing, they all root each other on, they all help each other with their gear — and it’s just a really great atmosphere.”
Getting back on the bull
Trip’s passion for bull riding helped him clear another hurdle. He broke his femur after being launched off a bull during a practice session in November 2021.
He was back on a bull 10 months later at the South Florida Mini Bull Rider Series in Fellsmere on Sept. 10.
“He did not let it bother him or anything, he just went in and did his job,” Burley said. “Unfortunately, him and the bull did not get along.”
The bull bucked him off in 5.9 seconds — not enough time to score. Despite that setback, his performance throughout the nine previous rodeos was good enough to win him the overall series buckle.
Trip said he felt a little sad he didn’t stay on longer — but not that sad.
“Because I won the buckle, I was happy,” he said.