Bryan Richardson hadn't learned algebra when he straddled his first bull at age 13. By then, he had already been chewing tobacco for four years, starting when he was 9.
The two habits -- chewing and riding bulls -- have long been partners on the professional rodeo circuit. But in August, one of the nation's oldest rodeos took its best shot at that marriage. Tobacco companies were prevented from giving out free samples of snuff at the Pendleton Round-Up, where for 95 years cowboys have come to test their mettle.
Now 24, Richardson goes through one tin of Copenhagen a day, relying on its familiar rush to get through each violent ride, as he did recently when he mounted Poison and rode the snorting brahma bull to first place.
His prize included a hand-hewn saddle, a pair of trophy spurs, a fancy cowboy hat -- but no free snuff, a staple that men on the rodeo circuit have come to depend on.
"At $10 a can, that's $10 bucks a day and $70 bucks a week. You do the math. It's expensive," said Richardson of Dallas. "It's just about so expensive I was thinkin' of quittin' this week, now that they're not giving us any for free."
"It should be free," lamented Zack Oakes, 22, a bull rider from Meade, Wash., who said he, too, started chewing when he was 9. "It's dang sure nice for them to help us out."
Health officials have singled out chew as one of the top health threats in rural counties. Nationwide, about 3 percent of adults chew tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In Oregon's rural counties, 9 percent of adult men reported using smokeless tobacco -- three times the national average, according to a survey conducted by the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Statewide, 13,000 children said they chewed, and in a survey of eighth-graders, 4 percent of boys said they had tried it at least once.
In Pendleton, a town built around the yearly rodeo, city officials said they took the stance against free snuff after hearing stories of children getting their hands on tobacco, which has been tied to oral cancer, as well as mouth lesions and tooth decay, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2002, saddle bronc rider Kent Cooper -- nicknamed the "Copenhagen Cowboy" -- died of throat cancer at age 47.
For the boys who grow up here, bull riders, not movie stars, are the heroes. Some go so far as stuffing round bubble-gum containers in their jeans pockets to re-create the shape of the Copenhagen tin -- as on the jeans their idols wear.
"The primary goal was to keep it out of the hands of young people," said Pendleton Mayor Phillip Houk. And for the addicted cowboys, maybe the financial hardship will be an incentive to quit, he added.
"Some of them told us they could get several months worth by going back several times," he said. "Maybe some of them will consider slowing down on it, or no longer using, like those who smoke cigarettes start thinking about not only the health risks, but the economic cost of their habit."
In the bull rider's warm-up area, the ground was wet in places, as if sprinkled with rain. Except it was spit.
Here, as the riders taped their arms and chests in preparation for matches with thousand-pound bulls, the idea of the city trying to manage their risk had the ring of the ridiculous.
"You can get killed out there. Hell, last week my heart stopped after a bull stepped on my chest," said B.J. Schumacher, a freckled 23-year-old from Hillsboro, Wis. "It's not like we don't know it's bad for us. It's written all over" the can, he said.
Jesse Snyder, 26, agreed "I think we're all big boys and we know what we're doing to our bodies."
Inside the Let 'Er Buck Room -- a bar set up only for the duration of the rodeo and which serves hard liquor exclusively -- many of the men said the new rule is hypocritical.
"And this is fine?" asked Neal Sowell, 25, pointing to his glass of spirits. "My liver's failing as we speak."
But there were some supporters of the ban, too. Overwhelmingly, they were women.
"You go up to them and they're good-looking," said Shanna Smith, 19, one of four rodeo princesses. "And then it's like, not anymore. It gets in your teeth."
Officials at U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., which manufactures both the Skoal and Copenhagen brands, said they were not bothered by the city's decision.
"City councils make whatever decisions they think is appropriate and we abide by them. It's not a big issue," said company spokesman Michael Bazinet.
Yet even if all the rodeos were to do away with the free samples, it's unlikely that the cowboy tradition will die.
"Can I imagine a rodeo without dip? It's kind of like a cowboy without a cowboy hat," said bull rider D.J. Domangue, 23, from Houma, La.