PERRY -- Dusty Sheffield learned the hard way how important training is for a bull rider.
The 38-year-old from Cairo, who now shoes horses, has daily aches and pains from his rodeo days.
"I've had a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but I didn't treat it like a true sport that you'd train for," said Sheffield, who was helping with Saturday's Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association camp at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.
His older son, 8-year-old Daniel, wore his cowboy hat and blue jeans as he learned bull and bronco riding skills from a handful of former champions inside Reeves Arena.
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At the edge of the ring, Sheffield's wife, Amanda, was keeping a close eye on 3-year-old Eli, who also was wearing a cowboy hat as he pushed a toy John Deere tractor through the dirt floor.
The free camp was limited to those at least four to five years older than him.
"He's not too happy about that," Amanda Sheffield said. "He thinks he's 10 feet tall and bulletproof at 3."
The Sheffields are starting their own cow herd and wanted to see if the boys are interested in competitive riding.
"If they're going to do this, a lot of rules will apply," their father said.
About 50 children worked on their spur skills and proper riding form atop a drop barrel and manually operated mechanical bull.
Caleb Kornfield traveled from near Athens and paid attention to what the champs told him.
"Bulls are mean and dangerous," said the redhead, whose straw cowboy hat cast a shadow on his freckles and dimpled cheeks.
Although the 8-year-old has been on a real bull, he learned a valuable lesson on the simulated one.
"Don't stick out your tongue, or you're likely to bite it off," instructor Robby Shriver told him at the start of the ride.
His mother, Rebecca Weaver, grew up in a rodeo family.
"It's a pretty dangerous sport, but cowboys are good at teaching them," Weaver said.
She felt it best for Caleb to develop safety skills before tackling real animals.
Although her son wants to be a neonatal doctor, the association hopes the training breeds more career cowboys.
About a dozen camps are held across the country each year.
"We're going over the basic information that they need to continue to dream and to continue to experience what it's like to be an athlete and make a living riding bulls," said Shriver, of Savannah, a former champion who rode for 14 years.
When he was 19, a bull's horn knocked out Shriver's two front teeth as he looked down. He hopes the young boys and girls won't make similar mistakes.
World Champion Dustin Elliott, of North Platte, Nebraska, enjoys introducing the sport to kids and honing the talents of those already riding.
"We have a controlled environment, here with the kids, because there are lot of novice riders," Elliott said.
Two large bulls were contained in a back pen, and the campers got to touch them and see how the professionals handle the real thing.
"We don't want to scare them away, by any means, but we do want to show them the basics," said the 34-year-old Elliott, who had a 10-year career.
He started in the fifth grade, got a free ride to college on a rodeo scholarship and now coaches at the college level.
"Rodeo is the best thing that's ever happened to me, I know that, so for kids to get involved it's an awesome thing," he said.
Tracy Toney, a 7-year-old from Oconee, who wants to ride horses when she grows up, was having fun leaning back and kicking on the spur board to simulate bareback riding.
When asked if she was getting up on the "bull," she said: "No ... because I don't like bulls."
Shriver said beginners need to learn to ride as if they are part of the animal, hit the ground safely and learn how to prevent serious injury.
"Our goal is to keep them safe and keep them going to another event."
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303and follow her on Twitternote>.