The last few years of Dominic Ruppert’s life have been unforgettable. He’s been able to meet new people, see new places and do things he never thought he’d be able to do... like be tossed from the back of a one ton spinning machine with horns... for fun.
A chance opportunity during his junior year at Nokomis High School has given the Witt farm kid a passion for one of the most dangerous sports in the world, bull riding, but has also given him some of the best memories of his young life.
“I’ve just gotten to live life, traveling all across the country, meeting some of my best friends and it’s just been a blast,” Ruppert said of his rodeo experience, which took him from high school rodeos to the college ranks at Kansas State the last two years. “If I wouldn’t have gone out there and met the people I did and rodeo with the people I did, I would not be where I am today.”
Where Ruppert is now isn’t that different physically than where he was when this journey started back on his family’s farm. But in terms of life experience and perspective, he has grown leaps and bounds.
“I know that every day is a blessing and making sure you take advantage of every day is important. Those opportunities come and go,” said Ruppert, the son of Chad and Andrea Ruppert. “Fortunately for me, I’ve had the backing here at home that I knew I could go out and chase those opportunities. I knew at the end of the day, no matter what happened, I was going to have a place to land. If you don’t have that, it may be even more important to take risks. But not getting too comfortable when you have that safety around you is important.”
One of those opportunities that he couldn’t resist came through Ruppert showing livestock and his involvement in FFA at Nokomis High School. These experiences hooked him up with Trent Boaden, who graduated from Litchfield in 2015 and comes from a family with deep roots in rodeo.
“Growing up, it was always something I loved to watch, but it’s kind of one of those things that isn’t the easiest thing to get into,” Ruppert said on his introduction to bull riding. “When I was talking to Trent, he said, ‘If you want to give it a try, come over to the house and see if you’re cut out for it.’”
From there, Boaden introduced Ruppert to his uncle, Randy Littrell, who owns Shop Creek Cattle Company and raises bucking bulls in rural Raymond.
“That’s really how I got my foot in the door,” Ruppert said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I was just fortunate enough to get the opportunity to do it.”
Not that Ruppert hopped on a bull the first time out. As he explains, there is a big learning curve when it comes to getting on the back of a bucking bull for the first time.
“How it works is you start out with your fundamentals and continue to work through it. You get on drop barrels and stationary barrels because it’s all muscle memory. You’re developing those patterns of how to ride and implement that to getting on live animals” Ruppert explained. “It’s just working your way up from there. You get on bigger bulls and work your way up to bulls that turn back and have some power to them.”
Ruppert continued to ride after high school, while also going to Lincoln Land Community College, where he was on the school’s livestock team. From there he transferred to Kansas State, where a friend from Glenarm, Kyle Eike, was a member of the rodeo team.
“You can get recruited for it, but I wasn’t necessarily sought out for recruitment as I was just getting into it,” Ruppert said of how he ended up in Manhattan, KS. “I guess you can label it as being a walk-on. I got in contact with Coach Casey Winn and he said he’d be happy to have me and it just kind of went from there.”
Last week, Ruppert submitted his final project to earn his degree in agriculture education, and while he’s not sure if he’ll end up in the classroom, his time at Kansas State helped foster his love of agriculture and passing that on to the next generation.
“I’ve got some really unique opportunities in the agriculture industry. That’s really where my heart and passion is,” said Ruppert, who has been working on his family’s farm and with his cousin, Andrew Bertolino, doing contracting and construction. “Through doing that, it’s my way of giving opportunities back to the youth.”
That time also gave him a first-hand view at rodeo life, both the gifts and the dangers. During Kansas State’s home rodeo in February, Coach Winn was injured after a bull smacked into the shoot gate and knocked him down.
“Coach got stepped on pretty good, lacerated his spleen and broke a few ribs,” Ruppert said. “He’s fully recovered and back to running around like a wild man.”
Winn was lucky. While deaths are rare, Ruppert knows it can happen. Three have occurred at Professional Bull Riders (PBR) events since the organization was founded in 1992, with the last coming in January 2019 when Missouri cowboy Mason Lowe was killed.
“You can die and people do die doing it,” Ruppert said. “Really, you have to give it all to God and trust in him. No matter what happens, he’ll take care of you in the end.”
While Ruppert has made his peace with the dangers of the sport, it’s taken his mom a little longer to come to terms with his passion for bull riding.
“It depends on the day,” Ruppert said with a laugh when asked how his mom handles the dangers. “She’s got to where she can finally watch me do it and not just close her eyes. So that’s a step in the right direction I guess.”
It’s probably a good thing too as Ruppert plans to continue to ride in the future, with hopes of making it as a professional bull rider.
“Really it’s just getting on bulls. I’m to the point now where I have the fundamentals down,” said Ruppert, who will travel throughout the country for different events. “It’s really just getting a feel for things, because every bull is different. That’s why it’s important to get on so many bulls. No matter what they do, you’re able to counteract their movements.”
Regardless of where his rodeo journey takes him, Ruppert has made a lifetime’s worth of connections through the sport, which mean as much as any prize money he may win down the road. In addition to Randy and Casey Littrell (Randy’s son) and Trent Boaden, Ruppert also got support from the Larson family and Coleman Kirby in Kansas, his roomate at K-State Kyle Eike and Wyatt Rogers and David Berry in Oklahoma.
“That’s the best part of rodeo and the event that I do,” Ruppert said. “It’s such a tight knit group of guys who are all willing to help each other.”
That support has helped him get this far. Who knows where it will take him, and what opportunities it will provide, next.