competition, in the beginning, was a natural extension of the daily
challenges cowboys confronted on the ranch – roping calves
breaking broncs into saddle horses.
riding, which is intentionally climbing on the back of a 2,000-pound
bull, emerged from the fearless and possibly fool-hardy nature of the
cowboy. The risks are obvious. Serious injury is always a possibility
for those fearless enough to sit astride an animal that literally
weighs a ton and is usually equipped with dangerous horns.
Regardless, cowboys do it, fans love it and bull
riding ranks as one of rodeo's most popular events.
Bull riding is dangerous and predictably exciting,
demanding intense physical prowess, supreme mental toughness and
courage. Like bareback and saddle bronc riders, the bull rider may use
only one hand to stay aboard during the eight-second ride. If he
touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he receives no score.
But unlike the other roughstock contestants, bull riders are not
required to mark out their animals. While spurring a bull can add to
the cowboy's score, riders are commonly judged solely on their ability
to stay aboard the twisting, bucking mass of muscle.
Size, agility and power create a danger that makes
riding a crowd favorite everywhere. Balance, flexibility, coordination,
quick reflexes and, perhaps above all, a strong mental attitude are the
stuff of which good bull riders are made.
To stay aboard the bull, a rider grasps a flat
rope, which is wrapped around the bull's chest just behind the front
legs and over its withers. One end of the bull rope, called the tail,
is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the
bull. The rider then wraps the tail around his hand, sometimes weaving
it through his fingers to further secure his grip.
Then he nods his head, the chute gate swings open,
and he and the bull explode into the arena.
Every bull is unique in its bucking habits. A bull
dart to the left, then to the right, then rear back. Some spin or
continuously circle in one spot in the arena. Others add jumps or kicks
to their spins, while others might jump and kick in a straight line or
move side to side while bucking.