Billy Soksoda is a former bull rider from Redding California. He has competed in numerous Professional Bull Riders (PBR), Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and California Cowboys (CCPRA) events throughout the western U.S.A. In addition to bull riding, Billy has trained in Muay Thai fighting, has a bull breeding business and is currently a high school football coach.
Cowboy, Fighter, Entrepreneur and Coach
Flashback to the 2004 Sierraville Rodeo in Northern California. Billy Soksoda is bruised and battered from ridding in two other events. Despite suffering from a badly twisted knee, Billy Soksoda climbs onto a bull named Jojo. Fortunately, he has a good luck charm this time on the sideline, his young son William. The gate opens and eight seconds later it is over. Billy Soksoda is no longer just another rodeo cowboy; he has won the gold for the first time. It only took him eight seconds to win that day but it has taken nearly thirty years of hard work, discipline, bruises and a series of difficult choices, to get to this point
Phong (Billy) Soksoda was born in Vientiane Laos at the height of the communist takeover. His parents separated when he was only an infant child and his mother struggled to raise a family alone in a war-torn nation. When he was three years old his mother was forced to flee the small village they called home due to threats on her life. Early one morning they left, walking day and night until they reached the main city. Billy, his mother and siblings then crossed the Mekong River into Thailand where they spent the next three years living in the Nong Khai Refugee Camp.
Billy’s father, who had already made it to the United States, was able to act as a sponsor and brought the family to Utah where he had started a new life. Soon thereafter they moved to Sacramento, CA, where Billy spent much of his childhood. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sacramento was plagued with a rash of gang violence that hit the area's Southeast Asian community particularly hard. Billy’s mother decided to again escape violence and moved the family to Redding, a safer community in California’s rural north. Redding’s small-town western culture would change Billy’s life.
It was during his high school years that Billy attended his first rodeo and fell in love with the sport. One of Billy’s friends was a steer wrestler who competed in local rodeos. “I didn’t understand rodeo but we went and watched”, said Billy. “The first time I saw a bull ride I was so excited, we went straight to the store and bought gear and some [video] tapes of professional [bull] riders.” Out of all the rodeo events it was bull riding, the toughest of all, which captivated him. Billy endlessly studied the videotapes and about two weeks later he entered his first bull riding competition at a local rodeo. “My mom was there, this was her first time and last time for her. She asks me how I’m doing but can’t go," said Billy. He did not win that day but did complete the ride, a significant accomplishment for someone who had never sat on a bull. He convinced his brother Joey to enroll in a bull riding school with him. Billy and Joey both finished at the top of the class and began riding professionally, possibly making them the first professional bull riders of Laotian descent in the world.
Billy was originally going to study to become a teacher after graduating from high school so he got a job working with at-risk youth at a local school. Since school was out all summer it gave him the opportunity to ride the rodeo circuit for three months each year. Billy soon gained the recognition and respect of his peers in a sport that has been dominated by Anglo and Latino riders for over a century and where Asians are virtually non-existent even to this day. During training school, he suffered a serious injury, which required surgery. The doctors informed Billy that he would need at least six months of recovery time before riding again. Billy was back on a bull six weeks later.
Billy scaled back his involvement in the sport for a couple of years while he and his brother turned their focus to Muay Thai fighting. Joey had opened a Muay Thai academy where the entire family got in on the act, even their little brother. The highlight of their Muay Thai fighting days came when the Soksoda brothers traveled to Thailand to fight in a U.S.A versus China tournament, which they won. The brothers later dissolved the Muay Thai school due to a lack of interest within the local community.
Billy’s Rodeo career kicked into high gear again in 2004 when he came back with a vengeance, winning five titles in a two-year period. During the 2007 rodeo season, he participated in over 60 rodeos and was selected to be Mr. November in the 2008 Cowgirl’s Dream calendar. He won the Western Regional Bull Riders Associations (WBRA) in 2008 and the Ruth Rodeo in 2009. He qualified in the top 10 of the California Cowboys Association state finals and retired from bull riding in 2010 due to an injury.
Billy turned his love for rodeo into a side business, Soksoda Bucking Bulls, where he breeds bulls for futurity contests. His daughter's bull, 803 College Fund, is a youth division reserve champion and his wife Bridgett won the Coarsegold and King City Rodeos in 2021.
Billy and his wife Bridget live in Northern California where Billy has taken up coaching and life as an educator. He started a non-profit AAU basketball club and spent several years coaching football, baseball and softball. He is currently an assistant football coach at West Valley High School in Cottonwood, California, where he is responsible for the wide receivers, defensive backs, and special teams.
Billy is a lifelong learner holding four degrees including a Master's of Special Education. He is currently studying for a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction so we can make that Dr. Soksoda soon.
About this Article
Information for this article was obtained through interviews with Billy Soksoda. A portion of this article was originally published in Lao Roots Magazine. Photos Courtesy of Billy Soksoda with credits to Castro Equestrian, Bulls Eye Photo, and Susan Warner-Pearce.