By Tamara Juarez, March 2017 Issue.
In professional bull riding, six seconds can mark the difference between getting a paycheck or needing a medic after stepping out of the arena. One wrong move, or slip of the hand, and a person can find themselves face-to-face with a 2,000-pound beast with a very short temper.
Anything can happen after the bucking chute opens, and it takes focus, balance and plenty of courage to ride a kicking animal without letting fear overwhelm the senses.
Texas cowgirl Mandy Shipskey, 36, is one of these fearless bull riders, and she has two world championship buckles and a long list of scars to prove it.
“Bull riding is a whole technique, so you don’t just jump on a bull and hope to God you’ll ride it,” Shipskey said. “You have to train so your body knows how to react.”
Shipskey, who has been riding bulls for 20 years, said that it’s a combination of training and having the right mindset that makes a champion bull rider.
“… I’ve already got a certain mindset that I go into. I try to believe that I’m going to ride the best bull there and win the competition, so I can get my mind and body ready,” she said. “If you think you’re going to get hurt, you probably will, but if you go in there thinking, ‘I’m a badass’ then you’re probably going to ride the crap out of him.”
Shipskey is the founder of an all-women’s bull riding group based in Texas and a recurring contestant with the International Gay Rodeo Association. This February, she will be participating in the 32nd annual Arizona Gay Rodeo as a competitor and instructor for pre-event classes, which encourage rodeo involvement and teach people how to ride and train different ranch animals.
“I’m in charge of recruiting more riders,” she said. “I got the association to add ranch-style bronc riding this year, and since some people don’t know anything about that event, we’re going to have a school day before the show to teach people how it’s done and how to saddle on the horse. Hopefully, we’ll get new members from that.”
As an LGBTQ ally, Shipskey believes in promoting inclusion and a strong sense of community in rodeo, and was ecstatic to find an association that welcomed all minority groups, including her rare team of female bull riders.
“I instantly fell in love with this association, the stock and the people,” she said. “They treat you like they’ve known you their whole life, and after me and a couple of my girls went to three of their rodeos, we got hooked. There is just so much family and love no matter if you’re gay or straight, a man or a woman, or purple or pink.”
The Arizona Gay Rodeo will take place from Feb. 17 to 19 at the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds. This year’s program will include goat dressing, chute dogging, team roping, steer decorating and other classic events.
According to Ron Trusley, president of the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association, Shipskey’s group adds a unique element to the gay rodeo, where men, woman and nonbinary individuals complete in one arena.
“Over the years, the number of female contestants has declined,” he said. “But bull riding brings a lot of excitement, so it’s really great to have women in this event, because you don’t see them too often or hear much about them. Watching them compete and knowing they have as much of a chance as a male competitor to win is really exciting.”
Shipskey and her team of 15 bull riders met about a year ago over social media, after a member of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo challenged her to round up a group of woman to compete at that year’s bull riding competition. To her surprise, 30 women contacted her from all over the country.
“When they asked me, I didn’t know any girls who rode anymore, but I told them I would dang sure get it together, because it was my dream to ride at the Fort Worth Stock Show – I grew up with it.”
After the stock show, Shipskey was approached by numerous stock contractors and producers, including nationally renowned cowboy Wade Earp of the International Gay Rodeo Association, requesting her group’s appearance at their rodeos. Since then, the women’s bull riding group has participated in approximately 15 to 20 rodeos.
Phoenix native and former Cardinal’s cheerleader Esperanza Martinez found Shipskey over Facebook and now trains as her mentee.
“Mandy is amazing. She’s helped a lot of girls with their mental game and taught me that, as woman bull rider, I shouldn’t care about what others think, and that I have nothing to prove,” she said. “That what I love about this sport. It’s not about looks. It’s not about who you know. It’s just you and that animal. You’re not even worried about your own competitors.”
Martinez, who has been riding bulls for two years, said she is excited to ride in front of her family and friends, and share one of her greatest passions with spectators at the Arizona Gay Rodeo.
“I always tell people, ‘you have to try it,’ because it’s not something you can explain with words. You just have to try it,” she said. “You’re riding something with a mind of its own, so each time it’s like your first time except you’re not as nervous, because you enjoy it and have fun.”
Bull riding takes hours of training and preparation, and as the Arizona Gay Rodeo nears, Martinez, Shipskey and the rest of their team will call upon their hours of training as they get into the competitive state of mind.
“I have a lot of really good girls who are super talented, so the audience can expect a great show,” Shipskey concluded.
Arizona Gay Rodeo events begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 and 19. The 2017 awards ceremony will take place at 8 p.m. Feb. 19.
For more information, Mandy Shipskey can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/mandy.shipskey.