One of the best bareback bronc riders in the world is competing at Rodeo Houston for the last time this weekend.
Clint Cannon, of Waller, has won two championships in Houston but says he’s ending his 14-year career after this year because of a major concussion.
“The climb to the top is one of the most brutal climbs you’ll ever have to do in a sport,” said Cannon, who went pro in rodeo in 2003 after playing college football at Stephen F. Austin University. “Football didn’t even compare.”
The rush of trying to hang on to a raging bronco with one hand for eight seconds is an incredible one few experience, let alone thousands of times over 14 years.
However, for Cannon, that thrill came at a cost: more than 30 broken bones, several surgeries and more concussions than he can count on both hands.
“I thought I was in Texas, but I was in Kentucky,” said Cannon, recalling the symptoms of one concussion.
Cannon says for many riders, sitting out an injury is not an option.
“If you’re not riding, you’re not feeding your family,” said Cannon, who adds that in many events rodeo athletes pay entry fees and oftentimes struggle just to make enough money to pay it back, let alone pay for gas to the next event.
After Cannon’s latest concussion in 2015 at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, he took time off, talked with his doctor and his wife, and decided to retire after 2017.
“That’s gonna be the hardest thing,” Cannon said. “I’m gonna hang it up on my own terms.”
Joe Bruce Hancock, General Manager of Rodeo Houston, says their Sports Medicine committee is made up of more than 60 doctors, physical therapists, EMTs, and trained staff on site.
Hancock says the committee will look at players before, during and after an event to make sure they are healthy enough to compete.
“We can do some X-rays here,” Hancock said. “We can do some scans. We can do some things here that other events can’t.”
Hancock says riders, including those competing in bareback riding, can wear whatever protective gear they want. However, he says many choose not to because they believe it negatively impacts their performance.
Hancock also says because cowboys are independent contractors and not part of unions, it’s difficult to tell them they shouldn’t perform.
However, Hancock says the Sports Medicine committee has done concussion studies and has a concussion protocol in place.
“There are cases where we will say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not gonna put you at risk,’” Hancock said. “We’ll try to work through that.”
Now Cannon is using his success and his experiences to teach safety to the next generation of riders while he prepares for one last ride under the lights of NRG Stadium.
“I want my son and daughter to go, ‘Hey, I remember this rodeo, I remember going here,’” Cannon said. “Then I’m gonna hang it up.”
Cannon will be riding at RodeoHouston Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. He says after he retires, he’ll continue ranching and running his family’s landscaping business.