Matt O’Flynn and Lane Cork made the 13 hour drive to Lloydminster, Alberta at the end of November to compete in the Bull Riders Canada (BRC) finals.
It was the last of many drives the pair would take together, to a meet where both will compete.
Despite it being the last ride for one of Quesnel’s finest conquerors of bulls, O’Flynn was not interested in making a big fuss about it.
O’Flynn’s fiancee and Cork’s girlfriend came along, but that was it.
“I didn’t really want anybody to come see me off,” O’Flynn says. “I just wanted to have my travelling buddies there because it’s just another bull ride.”
He lists off a plethora of bull rides that were far more important in his life, like his first, for instance, or the first time he made it into a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) event.
But Cork was there front and centre. It was his first time riding after a two and a half month layoff due to a broken elbow but he was not about to miss his long-time training partner’s last event.
There was a little unease, but nothing that they were unused to.
“I was fighting nerves for sure,” says O’Flynn, “but I know how to fight nerves. I know I’m going to feel a lot of pressure. It’s part of the game.”
Cork gave his partner and best friend some pointers on the bull he was riding and O’Flynn started to daydream a little.
“Sure would be cool if I could rise to this one,” O’Flynn says he was thinking. “But then I thought, ‘No, no no! Stop that. You gotta clear your mind and just do it.’”
Training and preparation and thinking are all very important aspects of bull riding, but O’Flynn says when you are in the ring, it is vital to have your mind as blank as possible.
O’Flynn’s go-to method for blanking his mind is a bit unconventional, but has worked wonders for him.
“Matt always has a stupid joke to say right before he nods his head,” says Cork in a deadpan manner. He has heard quite a few during their time together.
“Most of them are pretty offensive, so they probably shouldn’t be put in the paper.”
“The majority of cowboys at that moment says things like, ‘Do your job!’ or “Be a man!’ and I’m the one guy that as I’m sliding up and they’re yelling at me, I ask if they want to hear a joke. That stops people in their tracks and they’re just thinking, ‘What on earth are you doing? You’re about to ride a bull and you’re joking around?’
“Then I say the joke, nod my head, and I’m off.”
O’Flynn says the last thing a bull rider wants to think about is all the pressure and the money and the hours put into preparation.
“It will make you fall off before you even open the gate,” he says.
“We’ve got to switch off a side of your brain. It needs to be 100 per cent subconscious when you’re riding.”
“The jokes get your mind off the fact that you’re about to go,” he says. “They make you react more than think about it. As soon as you’re thinking, you’re falling off.”
O’Flynn says he had been bucked off seven bulls coming into the event.
“I hadn’t actually stayed on a bull in four and a half months,” he exclaims.
He was able to ride his last bull and fared quite well, scoring 82.5 points, just missing the championship round by a point.
Although he wasn’t delighted with the result, remarking, “We go there to win!” O’Flynn was glad to be surrounded by some excellent bullriders as well as Cork.
“I could have just bucked off and that would have been the end of it,” he says. “It was great to make a good bull ride and have my best buddy there to make sure I did it right.
“I also made money, so I can’t complain,” he adds with a sly smile.
While long drives together (where O’Flynn sleeps most the time, according to Cork) might be over, the two buddies will continue to spend just as much time together.
The pair own some cattle together and O’Flynn recently acquired his guiding licence, so hopes to join Cork and his father on some trips in the summer.
He plans on taking a step back from the rodeo circuit for a little while, however.
“I was talking to some of the old timers that have retired,” he says, “and they’re saying how the first month or two, or even the first year, I’m going to be sour and unimpressed with taking time off, but I think I need to take a deep breath.”
O’Flynn’s younger brother, Eric, is just starting to bull ride this year, so he might take in a few of his rides but only the local ones.
“It’ll be pretty nice not to have to drive 13 hours every weekend,” he says. “Some weekends this year we were doing 45 hours of driving.”
Not that he would trade the experiences for a moment, however. He and Cork shared thousands of amazing memories that they will long be able to treasure.
“If the next few years are even half as fun as the last few, I’ll be pretty lucky,” O’Flynn says. “And I hope to be there when Lane pulls his last bull rope.
“I’ll drive 13 hours for his last time and send him off right.”