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Bull Riding in Del Rio, Texas

Bull riding is a rodeo sport that involves a rider getting on a large bull and attempting to stay mounted for at least eight seconds while the animal attempts to buck off the rider. The rider tightly fastens one hand to the bull with a long braided rope. It is a risky sport and has been called "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports."[1]



Informal rodeos began as competitions between neighboring ranches in the American Old West and the location of the first formal Rodeo is a debated. Deer Trail, Colorado claims the first rodeo in 1869 but so does Cheyenne, WY in 1872.[2]

A pivotal moment for modern bull riding, and rodeo in general, came the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA) then the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Through this organization many hundreds of rodeos are held each year. Since that time, the popularity of all aspects of the rodeo has risen. In 1994 a separate organization was formed for bull riding alone: The Professional Bull Riders (PBR), which stages a large number of events including the annual PBR World Finals held at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Most professional bull riders start out riding in high school NHSRA and or junior associations. There are several semi-pro associations including the Southern States Bull Riding Association (SSBR),the North American Bull Riding Association (NABA), the International Bull Riders Association (IBR)and the Professional Championship Bull Riding Tour (PCB) The top bull riders from these associations are eligible to participate in the National Bull Riders Series Finals (NBR). The NBR bulls are provided by the Professional Bucking Bull Association (PBBA).Bull riders compete at these events as they are climbing the ladder to the PBR and CBR and to supplement their income.

Rules and Regulations

Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede. The "bullfighter" or "rodeo clown" is standing just to the right of the bull

Each bull has a unique name and number used to identify the bull. A sufficient number of bulls, each judged to be of good strength, health, agility, and age, are selected to perform. The rider and bull are matched randomly before the competition, although starting in 2008, some ranked riders are allowed to choose their own bulls from a bull draft for selected rounds in PBR events.

A rider mounts a bull and grips a flat braided rope. After he secures a good grip on the rope, the rider nods to signal he is ready. The bucking chute (a small enclosure which opens from the side) is opened and the bull storms out into the arena. The rider must attempt to stay on the bull for at least eight seconds, while only touching the bull with his riding hand. His other hand must remain free for the duration of the ride.

The bull bucks, rears, kicks, spins, and twists in an effort to throw the rider off. This continues for a number of seconds until the rider bucks off or dismounts after completing his ride. A loud buzzer announces the completion of an eight second ride.

Throughout the ride, bullfighters, also popularly known as rodeo clowns stay near the bull in order to aid the rider if necessary. When the ride ends, either intentionally or not, the bullfighters distract the bull to protect the rider from harm.

Many competitions have a format that involves multiple rounds, sometimes called "Go-rounds." Generally, events span two to three nights. The rider is given a chance to ride one bull per night. The total points scored by the end of the event are recorded, and after the first or first two go rounds, the top 20 riders are given a chance to ride one more bull. This final round is called the "Short go". After the end of the short go, the rider with the most total points wins the event.

Points and scoring

The ride is scored from 0-100 points. Both the rider and the bull are awarded points. There are usually two judges, each judge scoring the bull from 0-50 points, and the rider from 0-50 points. The combined point totals from both judges make up the final score for the ride. Scores of zero are quite common as a lot of riders lose control of the animal almost immediately after the bull rages out of the bucking chute. Many experienced professionals are able to gain scores of 75 or more. A score above 80 is considered excellent, and a score in the 90s exceptional.

Judges award points based on several key aspects of the ride. Judges look for constant control and rhythm in the rider in matching his movements with the bull. Points are usually deducted if a rider is constantly off-balance. For points to actually be awarded the rider must stay mounted for a minimum of 8 seconds, and is only scored for his actions during those 8 seconds. The ability to control the bull well allows riders to gain extra "style" points. These are often gained by spurring the animal. A rider can be disqualified if he/she touches the bull, the rope, or him/her with their free arm.[3]

Bulls have more raw power and a different style of movement from bucking horses. One special move the bull sometimes tries is a belly roll or "Sunfishing"; this is when a bull is completely off the ground and kicks either his hind feet or all four feet to the side in a twisting, rolling motion. They also are more likely to spin in tight, quick circles. Bulls are less likely to run or to jump extremely high and "break in two" than horses.

For the bull, judges look at the animal's overall agility, power and speed, its back end kicks and front end drops. Simply put, if a bull gives a rider a very hard time, more points will be awarded. If a rider fails to stay mounted for at least 8 seconds the bull is still awarded points.[3] The PBR and the PRCA record a bull's past scores so that the best bulls can be brought to the finals. This ensures that riders will be given a chance to score highly. The PBR also awards one bull the "Bucking Bull of the Year" award, decided by scores and the number of riders it has bucked off. The awards brings a lot of prestige to the ranch at which the bull was raised.

If a rider scores low due to poor bull performance, the judges may offer the rider the option of a re-ride. By taking the option, the rider gives up the score received, waits until all other riders have ridden, and rides again. This can be risky because the rider loses his score and risks bucking off and receiving no score. A re-ride may be given if a bull stumbles or runs into the fence as well.

Bull riding as amusement for children


Rider equipment

At first sight, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of equipment used during a bull ride. However, riders use many pieces of equipment both functionally and to ensure maximum safety, both to themselves and to the animals involved.

The primary piece of equipment used is the bull rope. The bull rope is a braided rope of polypropylene, grass, or some combination. A handle is braided into the center of the rope and is usually stiffened with leather. One side of the rope is tied in an adjustable knot that can be changed for the size of bull. The other side of the rope (the tail) is a flat braid and is usually coated with rosin to keep it from sliding through the rider's hand. A metallic bell is strapped to the knot and hangs directly under the bull throughout the ride. In addition to the sound the bell produces, it also gives the rope some weight, allowing it to fall off the bull once a rider has dismounted.

Chaps are probably the most noticeable piece of bull rider clothing, as their distinctive coloring and patterns add flair to the sport. Usually made of leather, chaps also provide protection for the rider's legs and thighs.

Bull riders are required to wear a protective vest, but most usually wear one made of high impact foam that allows the shock to disperse over a wide area, thereby reducing pain and injury.

To prevent a rope burn, riders must wear a protective glove, usually of leather. This glove must be fastened to the riders hand since the force the animal is able to exert could tear the glove away. The rider often applies rosin to the glove, which allows for additional grip.

Cowboy boots are also worn. The dull spurs help in keeping a rider balanced, and are crucial to the sport as a whole. The bulls are unharmed by the rowels, as their hide is roughly seven times thicker than a human being's skin. Truly skilled riders will often "spur" the bull in the hope of achieving extra style points from the judges.

Cowboy hats remain the primary head wear used. While the professional organizations permit helmets and masks, many riders believe that this equipment can detrimentally affect balance, and most professionals avoid wearing them. The trend is changing, as more champion riders wear helmets for added safety.

Bull equipment

This bull is still wearing a bucking strap.

The flank strap is a rope made out of cotton which is tied around the bull's flank. This rope is to encourage the bull to use its hind legs more in a bucking motion, as this is a true test of a riders skill in maintaining the ride. If it is applied improperly a rider may request to ride again, as the bull will not buck well if the flank strap is too tight. The flank strap is applied by the stock contractor or his designate.

The Arena

The arenas used in professional bull riding vary. Some are rodeo arenas that are used only for bull riding and other rodeo events. Others are event centers that play host to many different sports. Common to all arenas is a large, open area that gives the bulls, bull riders, and bull fighters plenty of room to maneuver. The area is fenced, usually 6 to 7 feet high, to protect the audience from escaped bulls. There are generally exits on each corner of the arena for riders to get out of the way quickly. Riders can also hop onto the fence to avoid danger. One end of the arena contains the bucking chutes from which the bulls are released. There is also an exit chute where the bulls can exit the arena.


There is a heated debate between animal rights organizations and bull riding enthusiasts over many aspects of the sport. The first controversy is over the use of a flank strap. The flank strap is placed around a bulls flank, in front of the hind legs, and encourages bucking. Critics claim that the flank strap encircles or otherwise binds the genitals of the bull. However, others note that the flank strap is anatomically impossible to place over the genitals; as well as unrealistic, pointing out that the bull's genes are valuable and that there is a strong economic incentive to keep the animal in excellent reproductive health. Further, particularly in the case of bulls, an animal that is sick and in pain usually will not want to move at all, will not buck as well, and may even lie down in the chute or ring rather than buck.[4]

Critics also claim that "hot shots", electric cattle prods, are used to injure and torture the bulls while supporters claim that a quick shot simply gets the bull out of the chute quickly and are only a moderate irritation due to the thickness of the animal's hide. Cattle prods have not been used in the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour for several years. However, in smaller associations, a cattle prod is still sometimes used to ensure the animal leaves the chute when the rider nods his head.

Spurs are also a source of controversy, though modern rodeo rules place strict regulations on the type and use of spurs, and participants point out that they are a tool commonly used in other non-rodeo equestrian disciplines.

Bull riding also has the highest rate of injury of any rodeo sport. It accounts for approximately 50% of all traumatic injuries to rodeo contestants, and the bullriders have the highest injury rate of any non-contestant group.[5]

See also


External links

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