By: Justin Felisko
June 16, 2016
BISMARCK, N.D. – Kurt Shephard was in Oklahoma this past April with Reese Cates and a group of cowboys working some cattle when someone said they could really use a dog right about now.
Cates quickly chimed in, “We got a dog. We have the Australian Shephard.”
Shephard shook his head in laughter and, oddly enough, the nickname has since followed the 21-year-old bull rider from the fields of Oklahoma to the Built Ford Tough Series.
Cates eventually told PBR in-arena announcer Matt West, as well as a few other BFTS mainstays, and the Atherton, Australia, bull rider’s new nickname spread like wildfire.
“I don’t know why it never dawned on me before, or dawned on anybody else to call him that,” Cates said. “Then it just kind of stuck. Everybody started calling him that.”
Shephard added, “I am cool with it. I think it is pretty funny.”
It is Shephard’s first nickname outside of a couple of family members calling him Kurtly as a kid.
Cates and the Australian Shephard are two of the 40 riders expected to compete at the 16th annual Dakota Community Bank & Trust BlueDEF Tour event, presented by Cooper Tires, at the Bismarck Civic Center.
The two events will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE on Friday and Saturday beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Atherton, Australia, bull rider made his BFTS debut in Duluth, Georgia, with an 84.5-point ride on Freaky Eyes and, a month later, posted a career-high fourth-place finish at the Stanley Performance In Action Invitational in Billings, Montana.
Between those two events Shephard and Cates started to develop a stronger friendship after first meeting each other at the Perkins, Oklahoma, Touring Pro Division event.
Cates had initially heard about Shephard during his nine-day stay at Gary Leffew’s ranch in March that helped him fine-tune his riding style and climb his way back onto the BFTS after being cut in February.
Shephard’s name then came up again when Cates was chatting with Beau Willis, another Australian bull rider that is good friends with Shephard, and Kolt Donaldson, who lives in Idabel as well.
One thing led to another and next thing Cates knew and Shephard was hanging out at his house in Idabel.
“Beau called Kurt and Kurt came and stayed for a few days and Kurt decided he wanted to stay there,” Cates said. “He has just been there ever since. We have gotten to where we work out every day and we train together. We are practicing together and are entered up and everything together this summer.”
Shephard added, “It is pretty cool, especially because I have gotten to know those guys in the BlueDEF. “It has been fun. We all get along.”
Shephard heads to Bismarck 30th in the world standings and is fighting to keep his spot on the BFTS. He is 4-for-15 on the BFTS, but is 25-for-71 at all levels of PBR competition, including PBR Australia events.
However, Shephard is 1-for-7 since the BFTS first half ended at Last Cowboy Standing.
The BFTS resumes on Aug. 19-20 with the Music City Knockout presented by Cooper Tires in Nashville. The final PBR Major of the 2016 season.
Coincidentally, some of Shephard’s first introductions to bull riding came from a Leffew bull riding DVD.
“I got a Gary Leffew bull riding DVD when I was first starting out and learned more from that point by chance,” Shephard said. “Mainly at home one day I decided to do it and we started getting on the cows kind of. Then dad ended up getting a couple of practice bulls for me. It just went from there. The more I got on the better I got.”
Shephard began getting on junior level bulls when he was 15 years old. Obviously, growing up in Australia, Shephard looked up to 1998 World Champion Troy Dunn, but he also said he liked to study the riding styles of 2009 World Champion Kody Lostroh and eight-time PRCA champion Donnie Gay.
“I really liked (Lostroh’s) riding style when I was younger watching bull riding on TV,” Shephard said. “All of the great bull riders really.”
Cates has been impressed by Shephard’s grind-it-out mentality. If Shephard is ever caught out of position, there are times where he will grit his teeth and try to fight back to make the 8-second mark.
“The guy has a lot of heart and a lot of try,” Cates said. “He is one of those guys, like we play basketball together and he is not really that coordinated, but I guarantee you he is the first one to get up and be at the gym and the first one that wants to go do drills and get on practice bulls and stuff. He has a really good work ethic and you have to appreciate that in a guy.”
Shephard is a first generation bull rider, and he won the 2014 Australian Pro Rodeo Association bull riding championship. His cousins have competed in Australia and Canada as bareback riders.
This is the second summer Shephard has decided to stay in the United States and not return to Australia. He knows a big summer could help solidify his first trip to the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas on Nov. 2-6.
“Last couple of times I came over here, I never stayed for the summer and I really wanted to this time and I want to try and be well inside the Top 30 Top 20 when the Built Ford Tough comes around again,” he said.
Cates is expecting big things from the Aussie this summer and beyond.
“I am looking for big things from that because hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Cates said. “One thing I can tell you, most kids these days aren’t going to outwork Kurt.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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