Dayton Teenager Changing Kids' Lives One Bull Ride at a Time - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Dayton Teenager Changing Kids' Lives One Bull Ride at a Time

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By Ron Marasco

rmarasco@myabc5.com

 

On a ranch in Dayton, big dreams come in small sizes.  Seventeen year-old Levi Hopkins raises miniature bulls and knows each and every one of them, and all their habits.

"This is Little Jimmy," said Hopkins, pointing to one of his bulls.  "He's a pee-wee bull.  He's one of my favorite bulls because he's easy to talk to, he's friendly (and) he likes to lick people."

Levi's just a junior in high school, but already heads the Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association.  He says he's the largest contractor of mini bulls in the world.

"I love this business because I like bull riding, and I like being with kids," said Levi.

Levi and his parents, John and Peggy, take their mini bulls along with mini ponies to rodeos from Texas to Minnesota.  They give kids ages 2-14 the opportunity to ride the bulls, along with miniature ponies they also raise.

"We've taken this to a level where nobody else has got it to," said John.

They leased ten bulls in 2008 and their first event brought out 16 riders.  The very next weekend that number doubled to 32.

"After that 2nd rodeo we called the guy up we leased the ten bulls from, and said we'll just buy them all," said John.

They now have more than 80.  The bulls are less than 48 inches tall and weigh anywhere from a half to a quarter of what a regular-sized bull weighs.

"We got painted-up bulls, color bulls," said John.  "They look rodeo.  They got humps.  They got horns."

"It's clean cut, good family fun," said Peggy.  "And it's wonderful to hear their stories.  We get letters from the kids, personal letters and pictures that they draw of our bulls."

John says the bulls have changed Levi's life.

"I know what this has done for other kids, but what it's done for my son, Levi, he's a total different kid from what he was 4 or 5 years ago when he was very shy," said John.

And Levi pays it forward.  In fact, their company motto is "Changing kids' lives one ride at a time." 

"I always tell the kids the truth," said Levi.  "I always tell them they can ride this bull hands down, and they can win the rodeo on this bull."

Peggy tells the story of a social worker's conversation with a parent after the social worker noticed a difference in the boy.

"What is going on in this child's life?" Peggy said the social worker asked the parent. "His attitude is wonderful!  What is going on?  And he said you need to ask this little boy what is he doing different?  And he (the boy) goes I'm riding miniature bucking bulls."

The Hopkins have brought their bulls and ponies to more than 30 events so far in 2013.  They said they break even right now.  They're hoping corporate sponsors will step in and help take their venture to the next level.

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