Cody Herrick hopes to turn pro before his hometown Tri-State Rodeo in September.

For most of his life, Fort Madison native Cody Herrick wanted to be a cowboy.

More specifically, he wanted to ride 1,500-pound bulls. His grandfather helped put him on that path years ago when Herrick began to realize the most popular animal at the rodeo also is the most misunderstood.

"He (the bull) doesn't want to kill you. He's just doing his job," Herrick said. "They just want to buck you off their back and go about their day."

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Herrick came within a hair's breadth of reaching the fabled 8-second mark during the first night of the annual SnowBull indoor rodeo Thursday night at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, lasting 7.3 seconds.

"I got on a pretty good, bucking bull. He was just heavy and talked back a bit," said Herrick, who now lives by Ames.

Despite the multitude of injuries Herrick has racked up over the years, he views bulls as partners rather than enemies. Rodeo life revolves around respect for the animals, and Herrick talks about the bulls as though they were puppies.

"Some of them like to play with you when they get you down," Herrick said, referring to how bulls sometimes try to roll around riders who already have fallen to the ground.

That kind of rough play has cost Herrick some broken ribs, torn ligaments, a shoulder that pops out of the socket "more than it should" and several concussions. But his torn and broken body parts are more a nuisance than a career-ender.

Herrick does take concussions seriously, though. He'll usually sit out for a week after enduring a knockout blow. Maybe two or three weeks, if the injury is bad enough.

Those nagging injuries kept him down to 130 bull rides last year, which he considers low. A couple of years ago, he peaked at 243 rides in 12 months. Physical conditioning helps a lot with recovery.

"If you're not in the gym, you need to be," Herrick said.

Bull riding always has been a secondary occupation for Herrick, and he makes a full-time living as an electrician. But he's just inches away from becoming a pro in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), and that's when the world of rodeo will really open up to him. Big rodeos equal big money — for the winners, anyway.

"The last couple of months, I really put the hammer down. I've been putting in a lot more time at the gym, and I put a lot of time in training."

Bull rides only last eight seconds at best, and it takes a lot of core and leg strength to cling to the bull's torso in that minuscule window. Herrick said shoulder strength is important too, and was surprised by how much stronger his recent work-outs have made him. He hopes his new found strength will get him into Fort Madison's Tri-State Rodeo in September — a rodeo he has yet to compete in.

Herrick's entire family watched him compete Thursday night, and his father Kelly Herrick was especially proud. Kelly has been wheelchair bound since a vehicle accident a few years ago, and it was the first time he got to see his son ride.

"It was a blessing to have him there," Cody said.