MEDINA — Professionals from North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia competed in the Buckin’ Ohio Bull Riding on Thursday night at the Medina County Fair.
The event, though, was made possible by a family that runs a 100-acre ranch in Harrisville Township.
Eileen Thorsell, center, and her children, Shawn and Charis pose for a portait along side the bounty bull, Gus, at the bullriding event at the Medina County Fair.
RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE Enlarge
Dennis and Eileen Thorsell formed the business about 15 years ago, with son Shawn, who was in charge of the county fair event, and daughter Charis (pronounced CARE-iss) involved in virtually every aspect of the operation.
“Working for your family has its own dynamic,” said Shawn, a former professional rider and 1989 Highland High graduate. “No matter what fights we get into or disagreements we have, we make sure we get through it. Mom’s the glue behind all that. Because we’re family, we can say anything and throw any idea out there and we’re all going to be honest with our opinions.
“Mom is the marketing guru. Dad just tries to keep his mouth shut, but he has the final say in everything, in whatever we’re going to do.”
Buckin’ Ohio was actually formed by accident.
Shawn, a 15-year pro who went to Murray State College in Oklahoma on a full scholarship thanks to his bull and horseback riding talents, was competing at the high school level, but finding quality animals to practice with wasn’t easy.
“You can’t just go to your local sale barn and buy a bull,” said Charis, a 1994 Highland grad. “It has to be a bucking bull.”
“Dad was buying whatever he could get his hands on,” Shawn added. “They might last a week or two, and then they wouldn’t buck.”
Frustrated and basically throwing money away for short-term solutions, Dennis slowly built relationships with quality breeders, then got the idea to buy cows and raise his own bulls.
“We started raising stock, young bulls, to see if they were going to do anything,” Charis said. “When my brother worked with them, we’d look outside, without telling anybody, and there’d be 50 people waiting out in the yard to watch.”
Realizing they were on to something, the Thorsells formed Buckin’ Ohio.
“We bring the West to the Midwest,” Charis said. “This is definitely our livelihood.”
In addition to the Medina County Fair, Shawn runs a Professional Bull Riding (PBR) event that is part of the world’s largest All American Quarter Horse Congress, held each year at the state fairgrounds, and hauls bulls to competitions in other states.
Buckin’ Ohio also sometimes sells bulls, which can go for anywhere from $3,000 to upwards of $500,000. The Thorsells’ biggest payday came from a bull named Freightliner, which the family sold a half share of for $35,000.
The current star is Gus, a 4-year-old in the prime of his career. The winner of the county fair competition, who figured to earn $4,000 to $4,500, also got the opportunity to ride Gus at the conclusion of the event. If successful for eight seconds, he earned another $1,000.
“He’s mean,” Shawn said of Gus. “He’s almost 1,900 pounds, and it’s all muscle. I’m 45 years old, but if you told me I’d get $1,000 if I covered him (meaning stayed on), I’d give it a try.”
Charis, who also performs in a country band, has sat on bulls but never ridden them, preferring horses instead.
“It’s fun and exciting to raise something and watch it grow,” she said of the family business. “We cheer for the cowboys, too, because we’re friends, but it’s also fun to cheer for your bull. You want him to be unridden.
“Each one has his own personality. Some, you can walk right up and pet, but when they’re in the chute, they want that guy off their back. Then there’s others you can barely get in there to grab their feed tub. You have to use a pole with a hook on it to get it.
“They all eat before we eat, and they work about eight seconds once a month, if even that.”
The Thorsells, who employ a small crew at their ranch but contract between 20 and 40 people to help at various events, love what they do.
Another cowboy is also in the family, as Shawn’s 14-year-old son, Tristan, who will be a freshman at Norwayne, is currently riding.
“I’m my own boss,” Shawn said. “I don’t have to punch a time clock. It’s a way of life you don’t see too often in this part of the country. We do things old school, and I haven’t found a better way yet.
“There’s so many fly-by-night operations, but you’ll definitely notice the difference in our production. I’m proud of my family and the work we put behind this. It really shows.”