Aaron Williams: West Coast Bull Rider
In the world of rodeo, sun and surf are not the first things that come to mind when you think of California. Places such as Salinas, Clovis, Red Bluff, and Oakdale and cowboys like Semas, Nuce, and Leffew top the list of “Golden State” bull riding legends. Continuing the legend today are the stars of tomorrow. One such star in the making is Norco, Calif., cowboy Aaron Williams.
Williams’ rise, like those before him, is the result of passion, dedication and determination. Aaron began to apply these traits before he could spell them.
He entered his first rodeo at age 3. His Mutton Busting ride at the Norco County Fair lasted about three seconds. He carried the trophy he received for three days. “After the fair, I started to practice at a neighbor’s house,” remembers Aaron. “Then my dad bought me some sheep to practice on at home.” Practice paid off and Williams qualified for the California Junior Bull Riders (CJBR) State Finals his inaugural season.
“My parents hauled me to the state finals that year even though I was sick. When we got there I had a temperature of 103 degrees. My dad said we better go back home, but I wouldn’t have it. I informed him that we were already there and I was going to ride.”
He rode to the CJBR Mutton Busting Reserve Champion title in 2000. The victory was, in part, thanks to an encounter with a blacksmith at an amusement park.
“I was struggling staying on sheep,” explains Aaron. He goes on, “Then one day we were visiting Knott’s Berry Farm and a guy working there suggested I ride backwards.” Williams clarifies, “He was from Texas and said a lot of kids there rode turned around, with their legs wrapped around the neck of the animal. I tried this and it worked.”
Indeed it did. Aaron went on to earn the 2001 CJBR Mutton Busting Champion title in his home state and finished third at the National Junior Bull Riders Association (NJBRA) Finals in Oklahoma.
The next year he returned to Oklahoma and was crowned the NJBRA Mutton Busting National Champion. Aaron explains, “It wasn’t easy to accomplish this. The finals are held over four days in Oklahoma and include many of the best young riders in the world.” The family had to contend with scheduling issues and travel expenses before committing to the trip. Aaron recounts, “My dad did everything he could to solve these issues. He took time off from work and secured sponsors to help with expenses. For my part, I practiced every day to make sure I was ready.”
Aaron graduated to calf riding and then steers, and after several successful years on the local scene he returned to Oklahoma eager to win another national title. At age 11, he was named the NJBRA Steer Riding National Champion. He remembers clearly the events of 2007. “I felt really good when we returned for the finals that year. I was sleeping good and eating right and lifting weights every morning before I rode. My first steer came out and was two jumps and to the right and I rode him well. That ride was the high score of the week. My next one was two jumps and to the left and I rode him good too. In the short round I didn’t scoot my steer far enough forward before I called for the gate and he beat me out and bucked me off. My prior scores ended up being good enough to win the average and the title.”
In 2008, Aaron added to his list of accomplishments by qualifying for the Youth Bull Riding (YBR) World Finals in Texas, where he placed in the top six in the average. Later that year he was honored as the youngest inductee ever admitted into the Norco Hall of Fame.
He qualified for the YBR World Finals again in 2009 and also earned his first trip to the National Junior High Finals Rodeo (NJHFR) in Gallop, N.M. He returned to both finals in 2010 and again placed in the top six at the YBR finals and moved up to number 13 among the best in youth rodeo at the NJHFR.
In 2011, Aaron entered ninth grade and began entering high school rodeos in one of the most competitive states in the country. “In some states kids do not truly have to qualify for the state finals before heading to nationals.” As Aaron describes, “In California you have to qualify in the top five in your event in each one of our nine districts before you are able to attend the state finals. Then you have to finish in the top five at the state level in order to qualify for nationals. This makes it tough to move on, but also gives you the chance to experience the same level of competition you see later on.”
As a freshman Williams placed in the top four at the District 8 Finals and moved up one place at the California High School State Finals Rodeo. His qualification for the NHSFR in his first year of eligibility proved successful. He finished 44th in the average, the highest among all bull riders from his state.
With success comes responsibility and Williams shows the same determination in explaining the sport to others as he does competing in it. “There are a lot of horse people in California, but not a lot of rodeo people. When I tell someone here that I ride bulls they often look at me like they’ve seen a ghost.” He continues, “I get a lot of questions about how we make the animals buck. I have to explain that we don’t make them buck – they do it because they want to. I tell everyone who will listen how well rodeo livestock are treated and how much stock contractors care about their animals. Most of the people out there don’t know you can be fined or disqualified for treating bulls poorly or causing them even a slight injury.”
With success also comes gratitude and Aaron is grateful for the help and support of those who have helped him along the way. Local businesses All American Trailer, Tony’s Hay and Grain, Sixth Street Deli, Thrifty Horse, Boot Barn, and Cowboy Fresh Clothing have each been there for Aaron. Local cowboys Dave Aguilar and Steve Diaz have also earned William’s admiration. “I consider Dave an uncle,” says Aaron. “He judges for the CBRA and helped me get my start.” In regard to Diaz, he adds, “Steve runs a bucking bull company and has been a key supporter of mine. I’ve never seen him have a bad day. He’s always positive and does everything he can to help me out. All I have to do is call and he’ll load bulls for me to practice on. There are not many people like Steve.”
“My family have always been my biggest fans” relays Aaron. “My dad, Russell, has been a Marine for 23 years and is also a deputy for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. My mom, Robbin, grew up riding horses and sells real estate. Sam’s my little brother and he’s a pretty good athlete. He plays football and baseball and his football team went to the Super Bowl for their age group last season.” He finishes, “I have two other brothers, Kyle and Adam, who live in Florida.”
When asked what he considers his greatest accomplishment so far the humble cowboy puts it this way, “I consider meeting all the people I have as the best accomplishment so far. Going to rodeos and just qualifying for many events has helped me to make friends from all over. I know many people I would never have met had I not started riding bulls.”