BILLINGS, Mont. ― Matt Triplett was so sick and tired of drawing the same miniature junior bull that would jump and kick, but not buck hard. Despite getting tipped into his right riding hand and bucked off, Triplett was ready for something different.
And by different, the then 13-year-old wanted to get on full size bulls.
“I got upset with it and told my dad that I’m tired of getting on little bulls and I want the real deal,” Triplett said.
His father, Pat, recalled thinking, “I don’t know. That’s a pretty big step.”
Until that Saturday afternoon performance at the Blue Moon Rodeo – a little local rodeo, in Columbia Falls, Mont., that took place every summer weekend behind the Blue Moon bar – the younger Triplett had only ridden steers since he was 8 years old.
Pat wasn’t sure, but after Matt insisted the elder Triplett relented and asked a stock contractor friend of his, who happened to be at the rodeo, if he had something easy for him.
They loaded one in.
Matt admitted he was nervous, but he climbed into the chute, took his wrap and nodded his head anyway. He was well short of the whistle, but lasted about four seconds.
“My dad was pretty proud of me,” Matt said. “It was awesome.”
Pat added, “Right there, I could see he had all the talent in the world and I’m thinking this kid is going to go places.”
Fast forward to this week and Triplett will be going to Billings, Mont., to compete at a Built Ford Tough Series event in his home state for the first time in his professional career.
Last year, the 22-year-old said his first goal was to get on tour and qualify for the World Finals. After accomplishing his initial two goals, Triplett turned his focus to competing full time on the BFTS in 2014 and qualifying for the Billings event.
Billings is just over seven hours from his hometown of Columbia Falls, which is two and a half hours due north of Missoula along the western edge of Glacier National Park.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Triplett, who is in the midst of moving back home to Montana following this weekend’s event.
“There’s a little place that I’m probably going to buy there next to my parents’ house,” he continued. “It’s just going to be good to be back.”
Along with his parents and other family members, Triplett said two of his best childhood friends Brad and Jacob Narducci will be in Billings as well.
He had been staying in Stephenville, Texas, over the winter months.
But he’s anxious to get back to Montana.
Triplett said he’s planning to compete at Touring Pro Division events all summer and will likely travel with Jacob, but – given his place in the world standings – isn’t planning to go quite as hard as he did last summer when he was still trying to earn a spot on the BFTS.
“To watch him compete is kind of breathtaking,” said Pat.
Pat mostly rode bulls in Montana and had a PRCA permit in 1992 and 1993, but was never able to really stay healthy.
He said his dream for Matt has come true.
However, it’s been a long road.
Like so many others, Triplett’s interest in the sport started at a young age by looking at old photos of his father riding bulls and listening to stories. However, not long after he got on his first steer, which jerked him down over the front end, at the age of 8 Matt quit riding for about a year.
“I didn’t want anything to do with it,” Triplett recalled. “I thought it wasn’t for me and I was just going to play baseball and basketball and just have fun.”
Matt Triplett puts up 88.25 points on Shepherd Hills Stockman in Round 2 of the 2014 Bass Pro Chute Out in Phoenix.
A year later, Pat asked his 9-year-old son if he wanted to try it again.
He said yes.
“I knew from then I wanted to just ride bulls,” said Matt.
He went back to steer riding at Blue Moon and other small events around Montana until he was 13 and made the transition from junior bulls to full grown bulls.
“I tried to give him every opportunity I could,” said Pat, who built a bull riding pen in their backyard and bought old, worn-out bucking bulls for his son to practice on.
He added that Matt isn’t the most fundamentally or mechanically sound, but that his son has raw talent and, more importantly, “so much natural balance.”
Unfortunately, in Montana, according to Matt, sixth and seventh graders are not able to compete in the state junior high finals. But, as an eighth grader he finished second in Montana and qualified for the nationals.
“That’s when I knew I was going to be a bull rider,” said Triplett.
In high school he qualified for the silver state tournament, which is one level below qualifying for the actual state tournament, as a freshman. Then during his sophomore and junior years he qualified for the state tournament, but didn’t fare well.
As a senior he qualified for the state finals again, but his mother wouldn’t let him get on because he sustained a concussion the night before the tournament at his first Touring Pro Division event.
It was June of 2010 when that event took place in Sydney, Mont.
He bucked off his first bull and was drawn back into the short round, where he matched up with Bad Rock Fire. He got pulled over the front just shy of the whistle, hit heads with the bull and bucked off at 7.5 seconds. To add salt to an open wound, his parents had to take him to a local hospital for a checkup that night, so he still missed his high school graduation ceremony despite not competing at the state high school finals.
“Yeah, you miss out on that stuff,” said Triplett, who added being on the road kept him from camping and fishing as well. “You’re with all your buddies on the tour, but you miss out on the little stuff like that.”
His first year as a pro, he traveled with PBR veteran Beau Hill, who lives two miles down the road from the Tripletts, and they seemingly went to every PBR event up in Canada before Matt decided to travel more in the U.S. the following year.
He rode twice at BFTS events in 2010 and again in 2012 – “I didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t make myself feel like I was at home” – before settling in during the second half of the 2013 season.
In 2011 and 2012, he worked with an oil company in North Dakota during the week and just rode on the weekends.
“He never thought about not riding bulls, but he thought he needed to have a real job and make money to keep going,” said Pat. “It was one of those deals where I just kept encouraging him to go.”
Pat urged his son to focus 100 percent on bull riding.
In 2013, Matt recorded a pair of Top 10-finishes, including a third-place finish in Grand Rapids, Mich., that really solidified his chances of qualifying for the World Finals, where he rode 3-of-9 to finish the year ranked 26th in the world.
Matt Triplett puts up 91 points on Pandemic in the championship round of the Grand Rapids Invitational in Grand Rapids, Mich.
This year, he’s already had seven Top-10 finishes in 14 events and is currently ranked 13th in the world.
Not only will he be competing at the annual Billings event – the longest standing event in the history of the PBR – but he’ll also be matched up with Mr. Bull in the 15/15 Bucking Battle on Friday night.
The 15/15 will be broadcast Saturday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
If that’s not enough, Pat will be hauling a pair of bulls – Tiny Tim and Tornado Alley, which was recently the high-marked bull at an ABBI event – which they purchased back in November – he and Matt own together to the event as well.
“I’m so jacked,” concluded Matt.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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