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Bull Riding Basics

All the basics of the bull riding event


Bullrider tying bull at the Reno Rodeo

A cowboy ties his bullrope before his ride at the Reno Rodeo.

(c) 2004 Ralph Clark licensed to About.com, Inc.

Bull riding is perhaps the most recognized and popular of all the rodeo events. It is also the most dangerous. An often quoted saying about bull riding is, "It's not if you get hurt, it's when," and nearly every bull rider can attest to the truth of that saying.

But for those who enjoy watching the excitement and, yes, the potential danger of the undeniably rough sport, a look at the official rules governing the different types of bull riding competitions makes it easier to understand what's going on and therefore a more enjoyable spectator experience.

Bull riding is essentially a sport in which a rider (often referred to as the cowboy) tries to remain mounted on a large bull as the bull tries to buck him or her off. Riders and bulls are usually matched up at random prior to the start of a competition, although in some events riders do have a say.

As with bareback riding, and saddle bronc, bull riders ride with one hand and cannot touch themselves or their bull with the free hand. Doing so results in a no score.

Judging is a key to understanding how scoring works in bull riding. Judges award points based on how both riders and their animals perform as detailed below:

Scoring is the same as in the other roughstock events. Two judges give 1-25 points for the cowboy's performance and 1-25 points for the animal's performance. 100 points being the maximum, and is considered a perfect ride.

To ride, bull riders use a bullrope and rosin. The bullrope is a thickly braided rope with a cowbell attached. The cowbell acts as a weight, allowing the rope to safely fall off the bull when the ride is over. The rosin is a sticky substance that increases the grip on their ropes. Bull riders wrap their bullrope around the bull and use the remainder to wrap around their hand tightly, trying to secure themselves to the bull.

Unlike the horse events, there is no mark out in bull riding. Cowboys can spur for extra points, but just staying on the bull for 8 seconds is the main priority. After the ride, bull riders are aided by bullfighters or rodeo clowns and barrelmen who distract the bull, allowing the cowboys to escape safely. A good score in the bull riding is in the 90's. There has been one perfect score of 100 in the PRCA.

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. Bull riding has taken on a life of its own with the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.

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