Curt Check takes bucking bulls to Saudi Arabia for Camel Fest

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Curt Check is pictured in the arena with some of the bucking bulls he flew over to Saudi Arabia for the Camel Festival.

These spacious crates were packed with three bulls each and loaded onto a cargo jet in Chicago bound for Saudi Arabia.

The first bull riding performance the American and Brazilian cowboys put on was for the president of the Saudi Arabia Camel Club.

King had never seen a rodeo before

By Correne Martin

Saudi Arabian King Abdul Aziz wanted to see a rodeo as part of his prestigious third Camel Festival in February and March. He had never witnessed one before. 

So his people reached out to some cowboys in the Midwest to make it happen.

Curt Check, 38, from rural Seneca, was invited to be the stock contractor for the event, shipping 57 bulls on a 12-hour direct flight from Chicago to the Middle East. Dave Rice, of Rice Bull Riding Company in Princeton, Minn., was the selected entertainment provider, and he contacted Curt to line up the bulls. Together, the Americans teamed up with some Brazilians to spend 35 days entertaining the Saudi Arabia natives in the desert, about an hour outside the capital city of Riyadh.

“I took both my rigs to Chicago and [the Saudis] flew the bulls over,” Curt said, adding that he left Feb. 18. “They put three bulls into a custom wood crate with some hay, then stacked about 20 crates and jetted them over there. I’m sure it was a fairly comfortable ride.”

Curt said there was room enough for the bulls to lay down and have access to food for the climate-controlled flight over.

The king and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman paid all the expenses necessary to transport the animals and equipment across the world, bring the handlers and entertainers in, provide the month-long accommodations, and pay them a nice stipend on top of that. 

“We stayed right there in the desert in a little trailer house, and food was catered in three times a day. We got VIP leather seats (at the rodeo events),” Curt explained. “About 2,000 nomads came in with horses and camels. Every country you could imagine was there.”

According to the Arab News, camel owners and visitors from Arabian Gulf countries and around the globe flocked to the sprawling festival site over numerous weeks for what has become a highly popular fixture on the Kingdom’s calendar. With camels playing an important part in Arab life through the ages, the festival spotlighted Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage. The giant site was split into various sections, including a commercial area, desert park and village center where activities, entertainment, cultural events, traditional foods and handcrafts were available. Businesses involved in the manufacture and supply of camel-related products held auctions throughout the gathering. Six categories of camels even participated in a beauty contest.

According to Curt, the Saudis built the arena merely for the purpose of this rodeo. He learned the new prince is trying to introduce people of his country to different ways of life outside the oil industry. 

Though he doesn’t ride bucking bulls anymore, Curt and the Rice Bull Riding crew put on 19 performances during the celebration—the first was for the president of the country’s Camel Club. Once word got out about their show, he said more and more people came to see the production. Most of the shows fell on three-day weekends. Curt said 20 bull riders competed for $220,000 in total prizes.

“I sent some pretty damn good bulls over there, some high-end ones I’ve raised,” Curt noted. “Some of them were mine; others I bought for this (purpose).”

While in the country, Curt said he felt safe because they were guarded at all times. He said the group of cowboys was integrated with the Saudis regularly, but he didn’t get to meet the royal family. 

He felt the length of the trip became rather long, especially for him to be away from home, his expectant wife Jamie and five kids. While he was overseas, she and their oldest two sons managed the operation of 200 head of bucking bulls and 180 head of cows and heifers.

Curt said he was ready for American food upon returning home, since he ate a lot of lamb and chicken over there. 

Otherwise, it was an unbelievable life experience. 

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he stated. “We were the first people to ever go over there and put on a professional bull riding production.”

Next year, Curt and many of the same men are scheduled to return the Saudi Arabia Camel Festival for 14 days. 

In fact, his bulls will still be there for that event. Since the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have no agreement regarding cattle being imported back into the U.S., they were restricted from returning. So the Saudis purchased them.

“They’re at big ranches with plenty of shelter and fans. They’re fed and watered and well taken care of,” Curt shared. 

When not in Saudi Arabia, Curt Check contracts with the Little Britches Rodeo circuit to provide about 30 rough stock. His animals are also available for other events as requested. He has been to countless televised Professional Bull Riders events and, as it happened, was at Madison Square Garden when the deal came through for the Camel Festival rodeo. 

Curt is a Prairie du Chien High School graduate who rode bulls for 24 years at some of the top levels in the nation. 

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