By: Justin Felisko
April 09, 2016
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Tyler Harr was waiting for the elevator inside Alltell Arena, now named Verizon Arena, when he turned around to see a childhood idol standing behind him.
The 13-year-old was shocked to be within inches of future two-time World Champion Justin McBride.
Trying to play it cool, Harr asked, “What bull you got?”
McBride replied, “Spinnerbait.”
The two chatted briefly before McBride went up to an autograph signing before the 2003 Built Ford Tough Series event.
“I doubt he remembers meeting me, but I sure remember meeting him,” Harr recalled this week. “We exchanged a few words, but he was busy. I was just a young kid. I was fixing to talk to him all day if he would have let me.”
Harr lived only 45 miles east of Little Rock in Slovak, Arkansas, and had gotten tickets to the event through his friend George Marshall.
Thirteen years later and Harr will get to compete as a professional bull rider in Little Rock when the BFTS returns on Saturday and Sunday for the first time since 2003.
“Oh man, whenever I saw at the beginning of the year the tour was coming to Little Rock I just smiled,” Harr said. “I was so tickled. It is a dream come true to compete there in front of my home state.”
It almost didn’t happen, though.
Harr was cut from the BFTS last month following a 1-for-17 start to 2016. It appeared as if the Arkansas bull rider wouldn’t be able to compete in front of his family and friends like he had dreamed of since first seeing the 2016 BFTS schedule released.
It was serious gut check for Harr. He knew he had to change things if he wanted to find a way to make it back on tour in time for the Little Rock event.
Little Rock had always treated him well as a bull rider. He won the 2015 Touring Pro Division event by going 2-for-2, and he knew if he could just get back on tour that maybe some home cooking would do him well.
“It opened my eyes up a little bit,” Harr said. “I had to go home and do some soul searching. I laid everything on the table and had to figure out what was going wrong. I left no room for excuses. I did some soul searching and made up my mind that I was going to go to Perkins, Oklahoma, and Fresno California, and I was going to win my way back on tour. It just so happened I done it.”
Harr earned a trip to Little Rock by going 2-for-2 at last weekend’s BlueDEF Tour event in Fresno. He clinched the victory with an 85.5-point ride on Big Timer and moved from 40th to 32nd in the world standings.
A week earlier, Harr was beginning to get his confidence back and was adjusting to a new riding style he adopted since Duluth.
Harr traveled with Reese Cates to 1970 PRCA champion Gary Leffew’s ranch last month to try and figure out what had gone wrong for him.
Cates, from El Dorado, Arkansas, is also competing in Little Rock this weekend.
“Never in my career have I tried to work on my form or my riding style,” Harr said. “I knew there were some holes in it, but it always got me by. I finally had made it on tour this year and wasn’t an alternate. I was actually a seeded rider for the first time in my career for two weeks and then I got cut. It was a reminder that I wasn’t going to be able to compete at that level without fixing some of the problems I had.”
After a few days of what Harr called “boot camp” training, Harr decided to try and start riding more with his legs and drive himself out over his bull rope instead of sitting back and simply trying to grind his way to 8 seconds.
“I kind of had some really bad habits of really sitting down and lifting on my rope,” Harr said. “It worked OK into my hand, but on bulls away from my hand I was trying to cut the corners and just lift and lean. It just wasn’t working. I spent that whole entire time trying to brand into my brain a new riding style. That is all I have done for the last 3-4 weeks. I have worked every day on my bull riding. Something every day.”
Harr is a combined 4-for-6 at the two events, which is still a very small sample size, following his adjustment. He knows he should have tried to fix his errors earlier this season, but he was always too nervous about making a costly mistake at a BFTS event.
There was too much at stake to mess around with riding styles or gear.
“My fear with trying to change stuff before is I was scared while trying to change it on tour,” he said. “If I started to thinking I had a problem and tried to change it, it will make my riding worse.”
Now back on tour, Harr will get to ride in front of his family and friends.
It will be extra special for Harr as he will get to ride in front of his grandfather, Marion Harr, for the first time in 10-plus years.
“My granddad actually quit smoking 10, 12, 15 years ago,” Harr said. “He was in really, really bad health and said he wanted to live long enough to watch me be a World Champion. So he quit smoking. He probably hasn’t seen me ride in probably 10 years because of health reasons.
“He is going to be there in the stands this weekend and it will be a surreal moment.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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