Okeechobee bull rider sits tenth in the world

Posted 5/9/22

Ernie Courson Jr. is a life-long Okeechobee resident who began riding bulls at about 10-years-old.

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Okeechobee bull rider sits tenth in the world

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Each time he wins (as opposed to being thrown from the bull), Ernie Courson does his famous back flip.
Each time he wins (as opposed to being thrown from the bull), Ernie Courson does his famous back flip.
OKEECHOBEE — Ernie Courson Jr. is a life-long Okeechobee resident who began riding bulls at about 10-years-old. “I rode sheep a few times at the rodeos when I was little but riding in rodeos was never anything I thought I would end up doing,” the champion bull rider explained. “I got my dad to take me to watch them as much as I could though.”

When he was a child, Ernie started out dreaming of being a skateboarder. “I could skate pretty good back then, so I figured why not.” Unfortunately, those dreams were cut short when he broke his arm. “I was like, ugh. That career is over with. I’m going to go play football.” He played for OCRA for a couple years and enjoyed it, but things changed when he discovered bull riding.

Ernie Courson Jr. is riding a bull named Secret Squirrel from 5 Star Rodeo Company. This was an 86 point winning ride.
Ernie Courson Jr. is riding a bull named Secret Squirrel from 5 Star Rodeo Company. This was an 86 point winning ride.
“We lived across from the rehab (Dunklin Memorial) and when our dogs ran away, me and my three brothers would go look for them. One day we were out looking for them. We went over to their dinner hall and being little kids who didn’t know any better, we just hollered asking if anybody knew where Brother Mickey was. Well, he was right in the middle of preaching, but he stopped and said, ‘I’m right here. Are y’all here to find y’all’s dogs?’ Well, he told us to go right ahead.”

On the way down to get the dogs, the boys met a man named Gary Jones Jr. Jones told the boys about the rodeos the church held on the property every fourth Saturday and invited them to come down and ride a bull.

“We knew our dad would not like that idea at all, but our mom didn’t mind, so we kept it a secret from our dad for about a year. Even when he finally found out, he wouldn’t come to the rodeos.” He refused to support it and thought it was much too dangerous. “'I’m not supporting it. Y’all could die,'” he said.

Gradually, Ernie’s brothers got bored with riding bulls, but Ernie got better and better at it. When his dad realized how good he was at it, he started going to the rodeos with Ernie and hauled him all around Florida as he competed when he was 12 and 13 years old. “It was pretty expensive, but my dad hauled me anyway, because he knew I was having fun and was really good at it. He had a lot of faith in me.” As Ernie got older though, his dad encouraged him to find some buddies to travel with. “They weren’t always crazy about it, though. They couldn’t do any adult stuff while stuck with a 14, 15-year-old.” He found a group closer to his own age and the parents took the kids around.

Professional bull rider Ernie Courson Jr. is pictured with his oldest son Trenton.
Professional bull rider Ernie Courson Jr. is pictured with his oldest son Trenton.

“As the years went on, I started getting into bigger associations, and when I was 25, I decided I wanted to go professional. My wife stepped up to the plate and told me I had too much talent to throw away.”

A member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Ernie sits 10th in the world. This year, he has won $45,000 so far. This is how the ranking is determined. Ernie explained the difference in the amounts the fifth spot and the 15th spot is not much, and they go back and forth in ranking as the year progresses.

Ernie will be taking part in the NFR open, formerly called the Grand National Circuit Finals, in Colorado Springs in July. This used to be held in Kissimmee each year.

Not only is Ernie tenth (so far) in the PRCA, but he is sitting first in the Southeastern Circuit which includes the 13 southeastern states. In the Elite Bull Riders Association (EBA), there is about $6,000 between Ernie and second place.

A documentary called  "Ride Till I Die" was based on the riding skills and professional careers of Ernie Courson and Ricky Ringer Jr. and Sr. “The goal of the film was to show what we go through to achieve our dream of the gold buckle.” To get the gold buckle, you have to be first at the end of the year. He has won the Southeastern Circuit before, but he wants the one that says, “World Champion.”

Although he spends a lot of time on the road, Ernie works with his dad as a commercial fisherman when he is home. A family  member owns a fish house on 78 West, and that’s where the fish they catch goes.

Elizabeth Courson has always been supportive of her husband's (Ernie Courson) career and travels with him and the boys. Youngest son Ryder is pictured with his mom and dad.
Elizabeth Courson has always been supportive of her husband's (Ernie Courson) career and travels with him and the boys. Youngest son Ryder is …

 Ernie and his wife Elizabeth have two sons Trenton, 13, and Ryder, 15 months, and the family goes on almost every trip with Ernie. Both boys enjoy riding. The baby has ridden a sheep and even a bull, with lots of help from dad, and loves it. "I think we're gonna keep it in the family."

Though his dad is still supportive, he seldom goes to the rodeos anymore, telling Ernie he is bad luck as Ernie almost never wins when his dad attends. “I try to tell him it’s not him. It’s the bulls.”

 Ernie said, “I’m chasing that gold buckle, just out showing everyone, it doesn't matter where you’re from, you can follow your dreams.”

Ernie Courson Facebook

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