Tony Bell’s Career Ending Bull Ride

Editor’s Note: Tony Bell of Harveyville, Kansas, was born with partial spina bifida and imperforate anus. Doctors removed his tailbone right after birth and gave him an ostomy and later a colostomy. Doctors at Bell’s birth predicted he never would walk, he only had about 2% bowel control, and doctors didn’t believe he would survive past his 1 year-old birthday. According to Bell today, “All the odds were against me, and doctors told my parents that they’d better not get attached to me, because I wouldn’t be around for very long.” So, from birth,Bell had to learn to fight to survive. Part 4 of a 5-part series.

Who knew that this calm-looking animal could inflict so much pain?

Who knew that this calm-looking animal could inflict so much pain?

Bell: The worst looking wreck I ever had when I was riding bulls was when I broke my arm, and my broken arm bone came out of my skin. But my career ending wreck occurred when I separated my pelvis while riding Wooly Bully. Fort Hays State University had its own bulls for us to ride and practice on, and we used our bulls when we hosted an event when other colleges came to our campus and participated. Wooly Bully was one of our college bulls. When I drew Wooly Bully, I came out of the chute in good shape, but then I overcorrected when he went one way and I went the other. I lost my leghold on Wooly Bully. I tried to reset (move my body back to the center of the bull), because I was hanging off his side. Once I got back to the center of the bull, I heard the buzzer go off, signifying I’d ridden for the required 8 seconds. I tried to dismount, but instead of getting my feet down toward the ground, the bull bucked, and I went straight up in the air. I made a bad dismount from that bull and landed right on my hips. The bull then stepped on the side of my hip, breaking my hips.

That pain was like having a million bee stings at one time. I finally got up and hobbled to the fence. I went to my coach and told him, “I think I did something to my butt.” He started laughing, and said, “You’ve got enough padding back there that you ought to be o.k.” I told him, “Remember, I told you I had my tailbone removed years ago. I landed right on my pelvis, and the bull stepped on my hip. I hit the ground at the same the bull stepped on me. I think I really may have messed myself up.” I sat down on the sidelines. I could feel my hips start to swell. The sports medicine lady who went to all of our bullriding events told my coach, “I think we’d better get Tony to the ER. He’s swollen on one side, and the only way he’ll be able to be examined is for us to cut his blue jeans off.” I learned once I finally got to the emergency room and was x-rayed that I had a cracked pelvis. I was black and blue from my beltline all the way to my knees and was in the hospital for 3 or 4 days. I was on crutches for 6 months and in physical therapy for 8 months. I really didn’t think I would recover from that bullride.

After his pelvic injury, Tony Bell wouldn't take any more action shots like this one.

After his pelvic injury, Tony Bell wouldn't take any more action shots like this one.

Finally I was able to walk with the cane. Since I had partial spina bifida, no tailbone and no padding in my seat, I learned that I didn’t bounce back when I hit the ground like other bullriders would. I had to cinch up a girdle belt to pull my pelvis together, before I even could put on my pants after my surgery. That was pretty embarrassing, especially when my roommates in college had to help strap me up before I could attend class. I finally realized that if I got back on another bull I might not be able to walk.

Since I was getting hurt all the time, I ran up some sizable hospital bills, which my parents had been sure I’d do. They thought that the further in debt I got with hospital bills, the more I’d begin to understand why bullriding wasn’t a really good career choice for me. I soon learned that they were absolutely right.

Regardless of how much money I made riding bulls, I kept getting further in debt, because I was paying for all the hospital visits I was making when I was injured. That kind of expense quickly offset any winnings I had made from riding bulls, although I made about $28,000 per year before expenses in 2002 and 2003.

I was also breaking, straining, bruising, cracking and in general tearing my body up to the point that I was really going to be disabled if I didn’t quit. So, at the beginning of 2006, I hung up my spurs and my bull rope.

Next: Tony Bell’s Life After Bullriding

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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