Blame it on the coffee.
As a young boy, Nathan Schaper dreamed of being a bull rider.
He also knew there weren’t too many tall bull riders hanging around the chutes.
So when Schaper started standing taller than his classmates in fourth grade, he got a little worried.
To fix the potential problem, Schaper started drinking coffee, thinking it would stunt his growth and help him achieve his lifelong goal.
Now 22, Schaper is a strong 160 pounds stretched across a 6-foot-1 frame.
“I think it did stunt my growth,’’ said the friendly Schaper, starting to smile. “Otherwise, I would be 6-5, 6-8, playing professional basketball and making way more money.”
While still taller than many of his peers, Schaper is a bull rider.
And one of the world’s best.
Schaper made the five-hour drive from Grassy Butte, N.D., to Billings to ride this weekend for the Professional Bull Riders Stanley Make It Great Invitational at Rimrock Auto Arena.
“This is almost in my back yard,’’ he said. “It’s like a hometown event.”
Schaper scored 83 points on the bull Doom & Gloom in the first round Friday night at Rimrock Arena.
The event continues Saturday with a 7:50 p.m. performance and concludes on Sunday with a 2 p.m. performance.
Former world champion Kody Lostroh used a re-ride option to win the first round with an 89-point ride aboard Another One.
By winning the first round, Lostroh earned an opportunity to ride High Steaks, the Monster Energy Drink bonus bull for $3,000. The Colorado bull rider was bucked off in 2.6 seconds.
The money is now added to Saturday's bonus bull Mick E. Mouse, giving Shane Proctor a chance to ride for $78,000.
The only bull rider from North Dakota on the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series tour, Schaper is 30th in the standings. The top 35 each week qualify for the PBR’s top-tier tour.
“The whole thing is to be comfortable at these things,’’ said Schaper, a three-time high school state bull riding champion. “There is so much going on around you.
“You have to put away everything and just ride your bulls. Make it like you’re back in the practice pen. Of course, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.”
Schaper has ridden 11 of 27 bulls in 2013 and had top-15 finishes at Anaheim, Calif., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Chicago.
He suffered a partially torn groin in St. Louis earlier this year and missed three events while recovering.
It was a year ago where Schaper was feeling at ease at the PBR’s highest level. Billings was his first BFTS qualification – he had competed as an alternate in other years.
One week later, his 2012 season was over. He tore the bicep of his left arm, his riding arm at the PBR event in Boise, Idaho.
“I was just getting comfortable and that happens,’’ Schaper said.
Schaper went home, rehabbed and returned to the PBR at the opener in New York City, where he was joined by his family. “We had a blast,’’ he said of also doing some additional sight-seeing.
He now rides with an arm brace and also braces on both knees because of ligament damage.
Schaper graduated from Killdeer, N.D., High School and is a neighbor of Bob Christophersen, who won the steer wrestling average at the 1976 National Finals Rodeo.
“We do a lot together,’’ Schaper said of the two ranch families. “The support I receive at home has been great.”
Schaper spent two years riding for Gillette College, while he studied to be an electrician. “I always wanted a degree,’’ he said. “In case you get injured, you need a job you can fall back on.”
“But my plan was always to ride bulls.”
And that’s his goal this weekend.
“The next goal is to make the world finals,’’ Schaper said. “But you have to stay in the top 35, you have to be consistent.
“This is where I want to be. At the best (events) going against the best bull riders in the world.”
NOTES: Schaper's sister Hailey is an All-American high jumper for the Dickinson State women's track and field program ... There were 15 qualified rides Friday night ... Joao Ricardo Vieira, Stormy Wing and Douglas Duncan shared second place with rides of 87.75 points ... Two-time and reigning world champion Silvano Alves declined a re-ride option after scoring 72 points on his first bull ... 24 of the 35 bull riders wore helmets ... the group included BFTS standings leader Marco Eguchi who wore a helmet for the first time in his career ... Eguchi added another 61.5 points on his standings lead over Shane Proctor.