CALLENDER - On paper, becoming a rodeo champion reads easy: stay on an animal for eight seconds.
But, then, that animal is 10 times bigger than you, using all its might to shake you off and your grip is with your legs and one arm.
Drake Erritt, 10, of Callender, has managed to spend a good amount of those eight-second intervals over the course of the 2012 Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association season exactly where the bull didn't want him - on it's back.
Drake Erritt, 10, of Callender, goes for a successful ride on a miniature bull named Pancake during this year’s Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association national championship in the Dayton Rodeo Arena. His mother, Tara Erritt, captured the image of her son.
Drake Erritt bows his head during the Cowboy Prayer at a rodeo in Waukon in a photo taken by his mother, Tara Erritt.
Drake Erritt rides Icy Hot. The photo was taken by his mother, Tara Erritt.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Drake Erritt poses with his 2012 Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association National Champion Saddle in the lobby of Prairie Valley Elementary School where he’s a fourth-grader.
The result? He's the 2012 Junior Mini Bulls Grand Champion.
The pressure was on at the final rodeo in Dayton in September. He had to make two out of three rides.
"Even the best could get bucked off all three," he said.
Erritt has been riding since he was 6.
His mother, Tara Erritt, remembers exactly what he said after his first ride on a bull name Toro at the Webster County Fair: "Get me on another," she said.
His rodeo history predates that.
"We think riding bull was his first word," his mother said
Drake Erritt said the key to staying on is the bull rope, the one thing other than the riders' leg pressure that keeps them on the animal. Each rider has to have his just so.
"It has to be just right for you," he said.
During the season, Erritt and his family participated in 23 rodeos, including one as far away as Texas.
"It was really cool," he said.
Family support is important for his success, he said.
Erritt has three sisters involved in rodeo, a brother who cheers him on and, of course, his father, Michael Erritt, and mother, Tara Erritt, who do all the hundreds of things rodeo parents do.
That includes not being too nervous.
"At first I was," Tara Erritt said, "but I know how much he loves this."
A key to the safety of the riders are the bull fighters that distract the animal away from them.
"We put a lot of faith in them," she said.
Bulls used in miniature rodeos are smaller stock than regular rodeo bulls, but they are still capable of hurting the rider. Tara Erritt said her son has gotten stepped on and rolled over, and a long list of bumps and bruises.
"We've used lots of ice and ibuprofin," she said.
Broken bones? Not yet.
"We know it's inevitable," she said.
To prevent them, the riders wear helmets and protective vests.
Erritt plans to continue his rodeo career. The upcoming season will find him in the next age division: seniors, ages 11 to 14.
Beyond that, he has plans to continue through high school and college and one final goal: Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo held by the Professional Bull Riders Association.
"It's the rodeo," Drake Erritt said.
Until then, he has a collection of trophies and belt buckles to remind him of his successes. There's some grand champion saddles too.
But he won't be riding with the one he just got. That's what the one he earned in 2011 is for.
He was grand champion then too.