MILLSBORO, Del. — Four young brothers have found a rare passion for an unlikely sport in southern Delaware. The four Rieley brothers, part of a close-knit family of 12 children, ride bulls.
Thomas, Chris, James and Matthew Rieley have ridden since December 2011. Thomas, 18, is the oldest of the four brothers and competes in rodeos.
The others don’t compete, but ride in “showdeos” at venues such as Wicked R Western Productions in Wyoming, Del. Wicked R puts on shows with bull riding and barrel racing, often to packed bleachers of school children.
Matthew, the youngest of the four, is 10 years old.
“My heart was climbing out of my chest,” Matthew said in a 4-H speaking contest earlier this year. He was remembering his ride aboard a bull named Great White.
He held on for three seconds on that first ride before hitting the ground with a “thud and a cloud of dust”. Then he bounced up, ready for another ride.
“It’s the most exciting eight seconds of my life,” he said. “But, most of all, I like the line of little girls waiting for my autograph.”
The four have taken lessons and they always wear protective vests and helmets.
“They have training. It’s not like you just jump on the back of a bull,” said mom Lou Ann Rieley. “If you let boys do the hard things and the challenging things, then they won’t do the stupid things, at least not as many of them, anyway.”
Rieley was named Delaware’s “Mother of the Year” in April and was honored by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
It’s a deeply religious family and the children are home-schooled. The dinner table is likely to include farm-raised fresh ham or just-made strawberry jam on biscuits fresh from the oven.
The Rieleys are founding members of both the Pregnancy Care Center and the Abundant Life Church, both located in Georgetown, Del.
Besides raising broiler chickens on the farm near Millsboro, Del., the family raises all natural pork and veal for sale.
It’s also a family with tight ties to the military. Son Shaun is deputy director of legislative affairs for the National American Legion. Son Mark served in the Marines and daughter Kelly is a military police officer with the Delaware National Guard.
“I’ve had kids getting shot at by al-Qaida and the Taliban. I’m not going to worry about a bull,” Lou Ann Rieley said.
Every bull ride is different and the bull and the rider are matched by the luck of the draw. That means there is no way to predict what the bull will do when the chute is opened.
“You can never predict a bull,” Thomas Rieley said. “The hardest ones to ride are the spinners.”
He explained that riders try to match the bull’s movements to make it easier to stay on. Trying to match the movements is a far better idea than trying to outmuscle a half-ton animal, he said. “If you try to ride with strength, you’ll never win.”
Riders hold on with one gloved hand, using the free hand to help keep their balance. Completing a ride means you’ve been aboard a bucking, whirling nightmare for eight seconds after the chute opens.
“It’s definitely an adrenaline rush,” he said.
“You don’t really remember most of it. All I know is I love it,” said Matthew. “The last time, all I remember is me knocking my head and my body coming off a white bull’s back.”
“The second time I was bull riding, I got knocked off and it stepped on my head and kind of knocked me out for a while. It was a little intimidating,” said James.
John, the boys’ father, said he was glad James had been wearing his helmet. The boys, thanks to training and safety equipment, have had few serious injuries from bull riding.
“The excitement and the adrenaline get you through it . . . I love it,” said Matthew.
Matthew rates bull riding as the most fun of all sports, with baseball and football lagging behind. “But the next day you are so sore,” he said.
“It’s definitely an interesting sport,” said Thomas. “It’s far from any other sport. I enjoy the challenge of riding itself.”
“It’s definitely a sport worth getting into,” he said. “I never regret it.”