What drives a person to get on top of an enormous wild animal and tries to stay atop while the beast does everything to send you into orbit? What makes anybody do an extreme sport? Adrenaline is one thing to consider but there is a level of thrill seeking that defies explanation. The rider must stay atop the bucking bull for eight seconds. The rider has his hand fastened to a braided rope as the only method of attachment while the other hand remains free. It is a dangerous sport, and considered the most dangerous eight seconds in all sports.
Of course, the bull riders are doing this for the million dollar paychecks….not! Even though professional circuit bull riders can earn a six figure income, the majority are doing it for less. The main reason that bull riders do it is because of the long tradition and history. This is very generational going back centuries, while originating in Mexico and spreading into America. Now it is worldwide down to South America, and as far as New Zealand.
Bull riding is no different than other youthful endeavor, kids usually start out competing in high school and other youth organizations. They hone their craft and train like any other athlete to gain advantage. There are countless rodeos and organizations that sponsor the sport with top competitions being in the Professional Bull Riders, Championship Bull Riding and the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association circuits.
The equipment the rider appears minimal but there are many components to keep the rider safe. The main piece is the bull rope, which has a handle braided into it. One side of the rope is tied into an adjustable knot for different size bulls and other side is flat braided with an attached bell. In addition to the sound the bell produces, it also gives the rope weight allowing it to fall off once the rider has dismounted.
The most recognizable protective clothing item is the chaps made of leather, they protect the rider’s legs and thighs. The riders are required to wear a protective vest made of high impact foam. The riders also wear gloves, boots and mostly cowboy hats. There is no requirement to wear a protective helmet yet in the professional ranks, but slowly times are changing and more are wearing them.
The way a rider wins a competition is through judging and a point system. Judges award points based on several aspects of the ride. Judges are looking for constant control and rhythm in the rider in matching his movements with the bull. Points are deducted if the rider is constantly off balance and no points if the eight seconds atop are not achieved. The bulls also receive points for not allowing the riders make the eight seconds. There are standings for the bulls and there is such a thing as “Bull of the Year”
Bull riding requires balance, flexibility, coordination, and courage. Facing down a two-thousand pound bull takes as much mental preparation as it does physical ability. There is an amazing amount of training a rider must put into his sport. They have so much at stake while atop the animal. All of riders build their core strength to withstand the whiplash effects of the ride. Their upper body strength must be able hold the rope against the thrust of the bull gyrations.
Even though, the sport has its share of issues, there is still a large audience for the spectacle. There will be changes to constantly improve the matters that critics bellow about but bull riding doesn’t appear to going away anytime soon. The key to its longevity is safety not for lack of excitement. Yippee Ki Ay!!
Images courtesy of Chuck Szmurlo, Konaboy, Mike Sega/Reuters