NAMPA, Idaho – Stock contractor Gene Owen purchased his first bucking bull in 1985 and has worked with thousands of bulls in the last 30-plus years.
Owen’s love and passion for the sport of professional bull riding has never once gone cold or lessened through the years.
Despite all of the highs and lows, his passion has continued to burn bright with every morning he wakes up and puts on his cowboy boots.
The 59-year-old old enjoys those early morning roll calls to go feed his bulls at his ranch in Vinita, Oklahoma, the thrill and roar of the crowd when one of his animals lights up the scoreboard with an athletic prowess like none other and even those small intimate moments between he and his bulls back home.
As he was recalling his bull Hey Jack’s career and personality late Sunday evening, Owen let out a slight chuckle amidst his sadness.
Hey Jack was the biggest competitor inside the arena. The black bull with a fierce kick and strong extension was almost always fitful for the best bull riders in the world.
However, the 6-year-old bovine athlete sure as hell hated working out whenever Owen came to bring him out for a run on the ranch.
“If he could make him a big circle and try to get behind you, he would do it 10 times instead of going down the alley knowing he had to run,” Owen recalled. “He would make circles around you to keep from going. He would take 30 minutes to keep from going in getting done in 15. That was just his personality. He didn’t want to run.”
Owen and Jane Clark decided to put Hey Jack down Sunday night after their bovine superstar sustained a back injury right after Brennon Eldred’s 88.25-point championship round at the DeWALT Guaranteed Tough Invitational, presented by Ariat.
Hey Jack was transported out of the arena and evaluated by Dr. Abby Matthaeus of the Idaho Equine Hospital. A veterinarian is always available on-call or on-site at PBR events.
“It is never easy,” Owen said. “I called Jane as soon as I could get ahold of her. We didn’t want him to suffer. I truly do love the sport, and I am thankful for the bulls. I will always do my best for them. I am so appreciative of the bulls I get to work with.”
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert extended his condolences to Owen and Clark and called the injury a tragic moment.
“It is rare, but it is still a tragic thing when a bull gets injured,” Lambert said. “It is something we don’t take lightly. The people that own these animals care about them a lot and it is a tragic loss for them. Anyone that has pets or animals that they work with, they develop a bond over time and it hurts when you lose one.”
THE PBR CANADA CO-CHAMP STANDS OUT
Hey Jack concludes his career with a 17-5 record on the Built Ford Tough Series after making his Built Ford Tough Series debut last year in Billings, Montana, with a 1.7-second buckoff of Wallace de Oliveira.
The out earned Hey Jack a 43.25-point bull score, but it impressed Lambert enough for the PBR’s Livestock Director to place Hey Jack back in the championship round that same weekend.
Hey Jack responded by bucking off Tanner Byrne in 2.19 seconds for a 44.5-point bull score.
It was an impressive weekend for Hey Jack and the beginning of a soon-to-be successful BFTS career.
Owen and Clark, one of Owen’s longtime bull owner partners, decided then and there that they would buy the bull from Justin Volz and Wild Hoggs Bucking Bulls.
“You are always looking for one,” Owen said. “I had seen videos of him the winter before and then they bucked him in Billings, and he really bucked in the championship round.”
It was also a long time coming for the Canadian standout bull.
A year earlier, Hey Jack had tied for the 2015 PBR Canada Champion bull title and bucked at the Calgary Stampede, but he did not earn an invitation to compete at the PBR World Finals that season.
“(Wild Hoggs Bucking Bulls) sent me videos of him, and I watched the videos, and I didn’t take him to the Finals two years ago off the videos,” Lambert admitted on Sunday. “I thought the scores were higher than they should have been from the judges. I didn’t take him to the Finals and then he got down here and he was one of the Top 10 bulls last year and I missed it.
“I thought he would jump and kick really hard in a circle. I said he looked like a strong jump and kick and circler, and I missed it.”
Wild Hoggs Bucking Bulls posted a Facebook statement in regards to Hey Jack on Sunday night.
“We would like to thank Gene Owen and Jane Clark for everything they have done with him. Gene is one of the greatest bull men in the business and cares for these bovine athletes better than most can imagine.”
HEY JACK CONTINUES TO FLOURISH UNDER OWEN’S TUTELAGE; EARNS NOD FROM BULL RIDERS
There is always a risk associated when a stock contractor purchases a new bull.
How will the bull respond under new ownership? And in this case, how would Hey Jack respond to moving south of the border and size up against tougher bull riders?
Hey Jack, who had bucked off 10 of his 11 challengers in 2015, made a smooth transition as part of Owen’s pen.
Owen would buck Hey Jack once last summer in Vinita, Oklahoma, before Hey Jack flourished and went on a bucking tear for the final three months of the 2016 season.
Hey Jack ended the regular-season with three consecutive 45-plus bull scores with buckoffs of Mason Lowe, Cody Nance and Stetson Lawrence to keep his record a perfect 7-0.
If not for a horn infection, Hey Jack would have gotten the one more out needed to qualify as a World Champion Bull contender, but the PBR’s top bull riders didn’t want that to get in the way.
In last year’s World Champion Bull format, riders were allowed to vote a bull into the race if there was a bull they felt hadn’t qualified but should be considered.
“That said a lot to me about what the riders thought of Hey Jack,” Lambert said.
Owen said, “That was an honor to me that they did that. I really appreciated it and what it did. We had three Top 8 bulls and that was pretty cool.”
Hey Jack would not go on to win the World Championship at the Finals, but he finished sixth in the race and remained undefeated on the BFTS with 44.25-point buckoffs of Tyler Harr (2.25 seconds) and Chase Outlaw (5.48 seconds).
Owen was shocked how fast Hey Jack had risen up the rankings.
“Did I think he would end up that fast or in short of time in the top tier of the bulls? I was hoping, but you never know how they will adjust when they get here,” Owen said.
HEY JACK SEES HIS BUCKOFF STREAK END
Coincidentally, Hey Jack would finally be conquered on American soil in the same city where Owen decided to purchase Hey Jack.
This past April, nearly one year after Owen bought Hey Jack with Clark, 2012 PRCA champion Cody Teel stepped up to the plate to ride Hey Jack for 87.75 points.
The ride ended Hey Jack’s streak of 16 consecutive buckoffs on the BFTS.
“Nobody rode him until Cody Teel rode him this year,” Lambert said. “He went quite a few trips without getting rode and they were always short go outs and the top guys were getting on him.
“It didn’t seem like he had a mean temperament or anything like that. He just really kicked hard. That is the thing I will remember most about him. He bucked really hard. When he kicked, he extended his back legs and he kicked really hard. He had really turned it on these last couple of events and he was going back to the Finals again.”
Owen liked to compare Hey Jack’s kick to that of 2016 World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser.
“He had all of the kick Bruiser does,” Owen said. “He is just a shorter bull and not as showier as Bruiser. A lot of bulls kick, but there was a difference. Hey Jack had it.”
In Nampa, Teel said it was tough seeing Hey Jack’s career have to be cut short.
“He has really been turning it on lately,” Teel said. “The last few weeks he was doing his deal. He was just 88 points tonight. It balled me up pretty good. You never want to see that. That bull was trying real hard and you know the stock contractors are real close with their bulls. All of those bulls have personalities like people. They are all different. They know their individual personalities and get attached to them. It is hard to see that.”
2016 World Champion Cooper Davis added, “I know how much these stock contractors care for these animals. To see that happen, it hurts us to see. I feel bad for Gene.”
Hey Jack was 8-5 this year on the BFTS.
After Teel, Hey Jack was ridden by Jess Lockwood (84.75 points at Last Cowboy Standing), Lawrence (86.5 points in Tulsa, Oklahoma) and Dener Barbosa (89 points in Colorado Springs) before Eldred rode him Sunday in Nampa.
Eldred also wanted to extend his thoughts to Owen and Clark.
“Everyone in the bull riding industry lost a great one,” Eldred said. “My condolences go out to Gene. I can’t image. To see him go out like that is heartbreaking. He went out trying his heart out and my hat is off to Gene and Hey Jack.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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