Chicken's Back

Stabbing pain from lower back to groin. Infection. Fever. Disorientation. Difficulty doing daily tasks. The pain of kidney stones can literally bring even the toughest human to his knees.

Not so for 2007 Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) Bull of the Year, Chicken on a Chain.

Just six months after being crowned PBR's best bull in November 2007, the champion bull began showing signs of severe abdominal discomfort, dehydration, weight loss and high fever, according to stock contractor and part owner, Jeff Robinson.

Chicken was in poor health and deteriorating fast.

"His urethra was blocked — about 95 percent blocked, so we were afraid that we'd done some kidney damage," Robinson said, "but I think he's going to be all right."

Having difficulty performing daily tasks is bad enough for your average person. But when your daily tasks include putting 150 pounds on your back, being shoved into a bucking chute, spending eight seconds exerting every muscle in your body in front of a crowd of screaming fans — and then doing all that while your urethra's clogged with calcified stone — you might call those labors Herculean.

When his health was at its worst last year, before anyone had diagnosed the problem, Chicken on a Chain was featured in the final round of the June 20th Built Ford Tough Series tour stop in Tulsa, Okla. Dustin Elliot rode Chicken for a score of 41.25 that day, while Chicken's score came in at 44.25 (85.5 total) — meaning that, even with kidney stones, he bested his rider's score by three points.

"He got pretty sick, and we didn't realize it," Robinson said. "Seemed like something was bothering him in May, and he just wasn't himself — he'd been bull of the event like five times up to then — and he just kind of wasn't himself when we went to Tulsa.

"People ask me all of the time what's his best out ever," Robinson said in a feature on the PBR Web site last year. "Tulsa could have been his best out ever just to be honest. To be as sick as he was and still buck halfway decent is amazing."

But besting a rider is nothing new for Chicken.

In 75 attempts over four years, the human in the human/bull equation has only managed to complete an eight-second ride 13 times. That's a buckoff percentage of 81.33 percent, almost unheard of among elite bulls. And some big names in bull riding have tested and been tested by Chicken on a Chain. Of those 13 successful rides, six resulted in a score above 90 points. Justin McBride had a 93, Renato Nunes had a 91.25 and a 95.75, and, most recently, J.B. Mauney scored 91.75 in week two of the 2009 PBR season at Madison Square Garden in New York. The week prior, in Baltimore, Chicken bucked him in six and a half seconds.

"He went a couple jumps 'fore he ever turned back," Mauney said. "Then, he went to the right and I kind of made too big of a move and fell off inside the spin, my rope and everything slipped off his back and I was under his big ass."

It had been more than three years since Mauney had gotten on Chicken, and, after Baltimore, Chicken was up 2-0. So Mauney picked himself up, dusted himself off, and told his father before leaving for New York that, given the chance, he wanted a rematch. As to how he managed to hang on the third time around: sheer determination, according to Mauney.

"Revenge… I guess I was mad enough to stay on him this time," Mauney said after the ride that gave him the win at the event.

"He's always bucked good, and he got sick and had them kidney stones and it kind of weakened him up a little bit, but he's back to his old self again," Mauney said. "I haven't been on too many that's bigger than him. He moves like he ought to weigh about 1,200 pounds."

In fact, Chicken on a Chain weighs in about 900 pounds heavier than that at a robust 2,070 pounds — nearly a ton. Mauney went on to praise the bull for his athleticism and power, and when told about Mauney's comments, Chicken's owner Robinson fired back with his own flattery.

"I appreciate the comment, and Chicken deserves his place — he's been pretty phenomenal the last two and a half years — but J.B., I think he's a future world champion," Robinson said.

Chicken currently stands 10th among active bulls in the PBR despite his bout with bovine urolithiasis (the technical term for kidney stones in a bull). With a solid showing at the 2008 PBR World Finals and strong outings so far in 2009, it appears the goliath bull is back to form. Robinson confessed he had been nervous about sending Chicken back into the ring, but said that he'd gone to great lengths to achieve Chicken's full recovery, sparing no expense in the bull's rehabilitation.

In fact, most top stock contractors spend a good deal of money to ensure their bulls are healthy and happy. For example, Robinson just built a barn for the price of a well-appointed home in order to house up to 30 of his best bulls, complete with misters for the hot summer months.

But he went above and beyond for Chicken on a Chain.

"We changed his whole diet," he said. "We reduced the protein in the feed we were feeding him. And I had a nutritionist come in and draw up a plan that was still high in fats, just not fatty fats."

Now that Chicken's back, Robinson plans to campaign Chicken this year and next for Bull of the Year, depending on his health and performance.

He said there's more to Chicken than his bucking — that the bull has a special quality which is hard to pin down.

"He's just so big — he's just a freak," Robinson said. "He's so big to be that athletic. And I think the crowd really likes him. He's got the name and he's got the look."

Every hero has their genesis myth, and for Chicken, that X-factor might lie somewhere in his name. Whereas in Greek mythology Athena sprang fully formed from Zeus' forehead, in cowboy lore, Chicken on a Chain got his start by springing free of his pen.

Jeff Robinson tells the story best:

"Well, he was raised in North Georgia, where, at that point in time, seven to eight years ago, there were lots of people who had fighting roosters… anyway, there's all kinds of people that raise these fighting roosters, and they'll have them in their backyard or whatever, and they'll have them staked out. They'll have a little chain around their leg and stake those chickens out in a little pen. And he got out and got one of those roosters caught on his leg, so he drug this chicken around the yard for three or four days before they caught him."

And on that day, the legend was born: Chicken on a Chain.