When Cherokee bull rider Ryan Dirteater climbs aboard 2,000 pounds of fury and starts working the grip as his opponent stomps and bangs against the chute, he is a warrior fixin’ to go into battle.
There’s no time to think. No time to visualize. Once he nods his head and the chute door flies open all he can do is act and react. That’s the way it is in the organized train wreck called professional bull riding. “It’s as much preparation as it is the ride,” Dirteater told ICTMN. “That adrenaline rush always gets ya. When you step off with 90 points and the crowd’s screaming your name … that’s a pretty good feeling.”
The 26-year-old Cherokee citizen is pretty good at it. Dirteater, who is sponsored by the Cherokee Nation Businesses, is currently ranked 29th in the Professional Bull Riders’ Built Ford Tough Series world standings and is approaching $1 million in career earnings. He has some work to do in the five remaining events left in the season, but remains on track to qualify for the Built Ford Tough World Finals at Las Vegas for the sixth time in his career. “I haven’t had no luck the past couple of months,” said Dirteater, who grew up in the Cherokee County town of Hulbert, Okla. “But I’ve finished 15th the past three seasons. I should be OK. I just want to show the world what I can do.”
Part of the fun of riding bulls for a living and competing against the best cowboys and stock in the world is getting a chance to see some of it. He had the opportunity to spend time in Australia in July. “Bull riding has taken me a lot of places I never would have gone if it wasn’t for the sport,” said Dirteater, who credits his father Randy with teaching him how to ride. “I rode in three events while I was down there. I did pretty good in one event, but the other two weren’t so hot. But it was worth the trip.”
Bulls all over the world have the same spit and vinegar and riding Down Under was no different. “It’s land Down Under, but the best bulls in the world, I think, are here in the states,” he said. “But it was neat seeing different country and I had a blast. In one event I made a really great show and the fans were awesome.”
Dirteater grew up on a 15-acre ranch in Oklahoma. His father is almost a full-blooded Cherokee and his paternal grandparents spoke fluent Cherokee. Randy rode in the late 1980s, but never professionally. Instead, he focused on raising his family. “My dad still works for the tribe,” he said. “My grandma and grandpa spoke fluent Cherokee, so I got to learn the language a little bit. It’s something I still need to keep practicing. I don’t dance, but enjoy the powwows and seeing the crafts. I got a few long bows I shoot around the house sometimes.”
Courtesy Andy Watson
Dirteater attempts to ride Jane Clark/Owen/Showsports's BootDaddy.com during the second round of the Kansas City Built Ford Tough Series.
One of the things that keeps him grounded in the fast-pace world of professional bull riding is his spirituality. He grew up in a Christian household, but also draws on traditional Native forms of praying as well. “I think you learn from an early age you have to stay humble to stay focused,” Dirteater explained. “You got to have your faith. I’m a Christian and I attend church as much as a I can, but I did get a chance to sweat when I was coming through the Standing Rock reservation in June. It was my second sweat and it was awesome. We said some prayers, said what was on your heart. It was a special thing and it’s good to get centered like that.”
Courtesy Cherokee Nation
Dirteater has a good heart and tries to give a little something back when he can. Every year he hosts “Ryan Dirteater’s Ropin’ for Wishes.” Earlier this month this month in Tulsa he involved a number of his fellow PBR competitors in the charity event, including 2013 PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney and reigning PBR World Champion Silvano Alves. Rodeo legend Larry Mahan was also on hand. “Every year we raise money for the Make a Wish of Oklahoma and the Rider Relief Fund,” he said. “It’s a pretty good event. There was family there, kids and the bull riders were there signing autographs.”
His heart is in Oklahoma, he says. He has some financial investments and bought some property, but what he really wants to do is make a personal commitment to Native children. “I always want to see Native Americans be successful,” Dirteater said. “Whether its rodeo or bull riding or something they want to do. I put bull-riding clinics on sometimes. I grew up in a trailer house in a small town of Hulbert. We didn’t have much growing up, but mom and dad knew I wanted to ride bulls and they helped me out through the tough years. I went after what I wanted and I’m still living my dream. I think that would be my message to Indian country: ‘Anything is possible to those who work while they dream.’ ”