Originally published to Elgin Courier - January 17th, 2022
14-year-old Elgin resident, Talan Espinoza, is a champion bull rider with aspirations of one day joining the PBR Tour. The most significant result to this point in Espinoza’s career, according to the young man himself, came recently, at “Pitchin’ in the Pines” this past New Year’s Eve in New Waverly, Texas.
Espinoza and his family have traveled all over Texas – from New Braunfels, to Jasper, to Cuero – and even recently to Las Vegas, NV, as the young man continues to chase his dream.
He’s learning what it takes to reach the highest level, even outside of competing against elite youth talent at weekly rodeos. Now in the eighth grade, Espinoza has been working with Boudreaux Campbell, currently the 44th-ranked bull rider in the world, since he was six years old. Campbell was just starting high school when Espinoza began training with him, according to Espinoza’s mother, Tami Erba. At the time, Campbell himself didn’t even meet the age requirement to join the Professional Bull Riders, which is 18. Campbell’s fellow pro rider, Ezekiel Mitchell, is another mentor figure Espinoza has been drawn to. “We’re just friends, and he helps me out with a lot,” Espinoza says of Mitchell, a Rockdale, TX native who ranks top-25 internationally in the sport.
With a demanding practice and rodeo schedule, Espinoza has found great utility and convenience in virtual, K-12 learning. Having been enrolled at Texas Virtual Academy Hallsville for three years, he’s been excelling academically. For the hectic travel weeks, Espinoza’s school allows flexibility to the point that he can both pursue his dreams and get his education. “You can do it on the road, I did it all the way to Vegas,” Espinoza comments. “(Before TVAH), we couldn’t just pick up and go.”
In addition to pursuing bull riding professionally, Espinoza has interest in joining the military one day as well, but a 2021 injury has complicated that aspiration. “He broke his ankle and has screws in it,” says Erba. “So that kind of put a little damper on it.”
While riding in “The Road to Vegas” this past August in Huntsville, TX, Espinoza fell off a bull awkwardly and ended up getting entangled in the rope and dragged through the pen. He was stepped on by the bull, and snapped his ankle. After being sidelined for 15 weeks, unable to bear any weight on that ankle, Espinoza made his return to the pen midway through November. Two weeks later, he was competing in the Hooey Jr. Patriot Qualifier WCMB Finals in Las Vegas.
Espinoza says that concern about suffering a similar injury was on his mind when he returned to the pen, but at the same time, he was itching to get back out there.
“He was bored,” says Espinoza’s mom. “He really didn’t want to go to rodeos (while he was injured) because he couldn’t get on. But he was doing everything he could to keep himself focused.”
Possessing the same daredevil spirit that enabled him to fall in love with the sport in the first place, Espinoza managed to push the injury to the back of his mind and resume his career. He may not have performed the way he’d hoped to in Las Vegas in early December, but by the end of that same month, he had earned the biggest win of his career.
For a kid whose first experiences riding came on sheeps’ back when he was five years old, he’s climbing the ladder of big-time bull riding and getting closer and closer to the bright lights of PBR competition.
“When I turn 16, I’m going to do the CPRA,” Espinoza explains, referring to the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association. Then, he’s planning to work his way up to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which is considered a notch below the PBR itself.
“You know, there’s never a dull moment,” says Espinoza’s mother. “From riding four-wheelers when he was little, there was no fear.”
He has serious aspirations, but at the same time, Espinoza is still a kid. And it’s important to enjoy that, too. Out of superstition, he doesn’t wash his riding pants, and one of his quirks is, “He always wears crazy, outlandish socks,” as Erba puts it.
Espinoza is all business when it comes to bull riding itself, though. It shows in his results. Before too long, he may be able to make it his full-time business.
To learn more about Texas Virtual Academy, visit https://tvah.k12.com.