The Tuff Hedeman Louisiana Shoot-Out produced a couple of surprises. One was permit-holder Austin Meier, who won both rounds to capture the title. The other was the return of 2003 World Bull Riding Champion Terry Don West.
West, 39, of Henryetta, Okla., suffered shoulder and thumb injuries while attempting to ride his Round 10 bull at the 2003 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and missed all of 2004 while recuperating.
The Hedeman event marked West's return to competition and he surprised everyone including himself by placing second in the first round and fourth in the two-head aggregate while earning a check for $8,125.
"I'm tickled," West said. "Gosh, my first time back, I was wondering how I was going to compete. I haven't been on a bull in a year. I kept thinking, 'How am I going to ride?' I was really concerned about my riding."
Adding to West's concern was his first-round draw at the Bossier City, La., event Sammy Andrews' Wrangler NFR bull Whopbolla.
"I thought, 'Well, what better way to start back than on one of the top bulls?" West said.
West produced a score of 89.5 points to finish behind Meier's round-winning 90.5. Yet, even if the score had been 79.5 or 69.5, West would have been happy. He had missed an entire year, and had gotten on only two practice bulls at his home, and still covered his first bull in his return to action. He couldn't have asked for more.
"The whole year was frustrating," West said. "I'd won a world championship (West's second) and I was stuck at home. I couldn't do anything. Every time I would go to work out I would be in so much pain. I did nothing. I'd try to work out, but it hurt too much, so I just quit doing anything. I did nothing."
West initially suffered his injuries at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge in Omaha, Neb., in September of 2003. Ironically, he was riding the same bull, Burns Rodeo's Blenderhead Snuff, that rocked him in the final round of the Wrangler NFR. He suffered a torn rotator cuff and a thumb injury, and doctors also discovered bone spurs.
Doctors recommended surgery to repair West's shoulder, but he put it off to compete in the Wrangler NFR and he still hasn't had the operation. Instead, he hoped rest would heal his wounds. Gradually, that strategy started to pay off last year.
"Every time I'd go to work out, I'd hurt," West said. "I wouldn't do anything for another month or two. Then, when I went to work out, I'd notice it wouldn't hurt as badly. Then I'd lay off another month or two and do it again. Then I could tell I was getting better."
Even so, when he arrived in Bossier City, West was far from top shape. He admitted he rode his first-round bull on "muscle memory."
"I've gotten on so many bulls, it's like sitting at the table," West said. "You've done it so much, you just go do it.
"I knew I wasn't going to be sharp. But I was so tickled to get that first bull covered. I was really happy. Being off so long, the timing is not going to be there."
Now, West plans to enter up and make a run for a third world title.
"I feel like I'm getting back in synch," West said. "I'm going to start getting on and see how it goes. As long as I'm healthy, I'll be good. Staying healthy is the thing for me."
One of the ways West plans on staying healthy is avoiding Blenderhead Snuff.
"I wish I'd never seen that bull," West said. 'It cost me a whole year. I really don't care to get on that bull again."