Rule leaves behind a trail of cowboy buddies, good friends and a loving family
August 25, 2017
When one of the most bullheaded championship bull riders in history, Tuff Hedeman, heard that riding buddy Richard Rule just passed away in Loveland, Colo., after a cancer battle tougher than any 8-second ride, the typically tenacious Hedeman was stunned.
Hedeman, who powered through 13-hours of reconstructive surgery after a wreck unseated him from the menacing bull Bodacious, was a three-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Champion bull rider, the 1995 PBR World Champion, said, "Richard was a super good guy. I wasn't aware he was sick. I saw him two years ago when I did a bull riding event in Loveland, and it was always good to see him," Hedeman said. He and Rule rodeoed at the same time at similar events in the late 1980s. "He made me feel like I was his friend from the first time I met him … to the last time I saw him," Hedeman said. "If you were ever in a jam, you knew you could call Richard and he'd help you. I felt horrible about his passing, he was truly a good guy," Hedeman said.
Officials with the PRCA report Richard won $139,829 in his bullriding career. "He dang sure won a pretty good amount of money at those events," Hedeman said. "If he were riding today, he would win his fair share. As far as bull riding talent, he could damn sure ride."
Another cowboy buddy and good friend, Jeff Hart of Pierce, Colo., estimated 600 people (another estimate was close to 900) attended the memorial service to pay their respects to Rule on Aug. 23. Hart said that it was spectacular how many people Rule inspired. "He was very polite, a rare person, he knew no strangers, and nobody ever felt like a stranger around him. Richard was a special person," said Hart, who rode bareback horses in the PRCA, and made it to the NFR a couple of times.
“Richard will be sorely missed at the store. He was a key part of the team here at Barnyard Vet Supply, but not only that
— a beloved family friend for years,”
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"I met Richard in 1980 at a rodeo in Oklahoma, and we were rookies — our first year. I was trying to catch a ride, then I met Richard and we stayed at his parent's house, and he took us to the airport the next morning. We'd see each other at rodeos, he got married and moved to Colorado a few years later, and we became friends. We got hurt at the same time and we were each others connections; sitting home and couldn't rodeo because he broke his leg in San Antonio, and took a year for him to heal. I had a knee injury which took me out for a long time, so we got pretty close then and became friends," Hart said. Even after rodeoing, they stayed friends, and had kids the same age.
"Richard fought the cancer head on, real hard, he didn't lose the battle … God just needed another angel," Hart said. "He was a fantastic friend, and I'm just grateful for the times I got to be with him. I can't remember him not ever having a smile, and that infectious laughter."
Spud Whitman, a five-time PBR finalist, was a bull riding buddy of Rules, who traveled with him. The two have been friends for a long time. "He was the type of man when he shook your hand and said something, he meant it. Richard was a friend that most people could only dream of," said Whitman, who lives in Pauls Valley, Okla., and owns Whitman Livestock. "No matter how long it was between times that we saw each other, we always picked up right where we left off. Richard's smile was contagious and there will never be another man like him. He was truly special."
"He took the most serious, hardship times and turned them into fun," said Rule's wife Shannon Fancher. "I was talking to my dad, who said 'You didn't have to glorify him, because that was the true Richard.'"
"One of Richard's greatest professional moments, was that, for 18 years, he held the highest bull riding score at the National Western Stock Show in Denver," Shannon said.
Rule, who was born and raised in Oklahoma City, enjoyed helping his father work at the largest stocker-feeder cattle market in the world, the Oklahoma City National Stockyards. He also worked at the National Saddlery tack store in the historic Oklahoma City Stockyards District with his brother John Rule, who co-owned the tack store with his wife, Dona Kaye, for many years, before selling it a couple of years ago.
Rule kicked-off his bull riding career as the 1982 Collegiate Bull riding champion at Southwestern University in Weatherford, Okla. He rode bulls in the PRCA and in the Bull Riders Only. Rule thrived in raising bucking bulls, team roping, trail riding and directing the rodeo.
Rule worked as a fencing contractor for 10 years in Loveland, where he made his home with Fancher. He was the Larimer County Fairgrounds Operations Supervisor, and the team members were "like a second family to him," Fancher said. His team members donated all the items for the memorial service, in a show of love and support, she added.
"All the promoters knew Rule. Whether it was a candidate like President Trump's bodyguard at his campaign rally, or a worker doing community service — it didn't matter how important people were. Rule treated everybody the same," Fancher said. "It was all about the relationship."
Rule and Fancher co-owned and operated the Barnyard Vet and Feed Supply store in Loveland.
"The store was our side retirement plan. Richard always had an Okie-ism (sayings from his Oklahoma homeland) and you needed an 'Okie' dictionary to be with Richard. We produced off-the-cuff videos to advertise the store," Fancher said.
As each tribute and remembrance of Rule is a personal and individual expression, so are the heartfelt thoughts of Richard and Fancher working and sharing their joy in the veterinary supply store.
"Richard will be sorely missed at the store. He was a key part of the team here at Barnyard Vet Supply, but not only that — a beloved family friend for years," said Erin McCrimmon, store co-owner. "Richard was humble, kind, generous, had true grit, and (was) our trail boss," McCrimmon said. "He loved his girls and loved his boys fiercely. He will hold a very special place in our hearts forever and we are so thankful for the memories we have of him. Barnyard Vet Supply will continue to honor Richard and uphold his high standard of work ethics."
Rule leaves behind sons, Rayne and Drake Rule from his first marriage. When he married his second wife. Fancher, on May 10, 2010, he also became a father to step-daughter Lindsey Jeanne. Rule is also survived by his mother, Celeste Nelson of Oklahoma City, brother John Rule and his wife Dona Kaye Rule, sister Suzanne Smith, sister Cindy Rule and brother Kevin Rule all of Oklahoma.
After Rules's memorial service on Aug. 23, in The Ranchway Indoor Arena at the Larimer County Fairgrounds in Loveland, his cowboy buddies were already telling stories from their bull riding days, Fancher said.
"The Three Amigos' is a popular story in Richard's corner. For over 25 years, Richard thrived on working with pals Benny Beutler and Hadley Barrett to produce the Loveland PRCA rodeo. (Sadly, Barrett, a longtime rodeo announcer, passed away earlier this year in Colorado.) That combination — of the three of them was indescribable," Fancher said.
With many people offering stories to share about their memories of Richard, the family requests any tales from the trails please be sent to a specially created email account.
"Drake (Rules's son) set up the email, because many people have stories of his father. So, to create a file, or journal, they're asking people to send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cancer took the hearty cowboy by surprise. Rule was diagnosed with esophageal cancer Oct. 15, 2016, and started chemotherapy the following month. "He marched through it," Fancher said. "He was healthy and fit."
After five weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Rule underwent major surgery in March 2017, to remove part of his esophagus and part of his stomach. In a horrifying discovery during that eight-week recovery period, while he was healing, the cancer spread to his bones, triggering more back pain. In early summer this year, it spread like wildfire, and the bones just started to collapse. Nobody understood.
"We felt strongly the surgery would be worth it, otherwise the chance of the cancer returning was too high," Fancher said.
"Nobody expected it to spread to his bones. But he was still fighting … he went back for more chemo. He fought the good fight, He was a man of God, and he did not know the meaning of 'quit' because of bull riding. Richard said, 'Until God called him, he was going to fight the fight of faith.'"
But, as bull riders know, just like a bull that's said to 'have heart,' it's all about that inner spirit and intestinal fortitude for what lies in front of them. As Fancher pointed out, that's also what Richard was about, having heart. "It was about all the people he touched, from the nurses, doctors, many of whom planned to be at his funeral, "Fancher said. "He just had that infectious type of personality. He touched everybody." ❖
— Amy Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at: email@example.com.