How to Ride a Bull

Illustrations by Kevin Hand

The rules for riding a one-ton bucking bull are deceptively simple. A cowboy must stay on the animal for eight seconds. If he’s thrown off before the time elapses or if he touches the bull, himself, or the equipment with his free hand, he’s disqualified. The maximum score is 100 points, with two judges awarding up to 50 points each, 25 for the bull’s level of difficulty and 25 for the rider’s skill (spurring the bull in tandem with his stride will earn style points, for example). The event requires minimal gear: a bull rope with a braided-leather handle, spurs, a padded vest, a leather riding glove, chaps, and a helmet. “You can wear a cowboy hat,” says Odessa native Shawn Hogg, who is currently the second-ranked bull rider in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “But a helmet may prolong your career.” So how do you prepare for the most dangerous eight seconds in sports? “You don’t just hold on for dear life,” Hogg says. “We train to perfect our technique.”

1. Encircle the animal with the bull rope by wrapping it under his chest and behind the shoulders. Thread the rope’s tail through the loop on the opposite end. Position the leather handle so that it sits on the center of the bull’s back. Slip your palm under the handle, pull the rope tight, and wrap the loose tail once around your hand.

2. Scooch your body toward the bull’s shoulders until the handle is between your upper thighs. Grip the body of the bull with your spurs, making sure your feet are in front of the rope. Offer a quick prayer to the rodeo gods and nod to the gate man to open the chute.

3. “From here, it’s all reaction,” Hogg says. Lift on your rope to stay seated on the bull’s back and keep yourself centered—don’t lean too far back or too far forward. Stick your chest out and hold your free hand up. “When the animal rears, get out over his front end,” Hogg says. “When his front end comes down and he kicks up his hind legs, keep your butt down or you’ll go over his head.” Use your spurs to hold on to the bull’s body.

4. After the buzzer, wait for the bull to move in the opposite direction from your riding hand. Let go of the rope (which will loosen), dismount toward the side and the rear, and scramble away. You don’t want the bull to recognize you as the pest who was poking him with spurs.

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