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Bull Riding Equipment

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Bull Riding Equipment

A bull rider leaves the chute aboard a hard-bucking bull.

Photo © Richard Field Levine
Bull riding has been deemed one of the most physically-demanding sports on the planet, and those with a passion for the sport certainly agree. It takes courage, determination and guts to hop on the back of a half-ton mass of bucking bovine, and skill and precision to hang on for a full 8-second ride. Each cowboy is required to use bull rider, it's an eternity. Chute hands load a bull into each chute in accordance with the draw order determined at the beginning of the event. The contestants slip behind the chutes and find their bull, placing their gear on top of the chute in preparation for their ride. The cowboy's bull rope is fastened around the bull's body and the cowboy climbs aboard. He nods his head to indicate that he's ready to go and the gate man pulls open the gate. Each cowboy must stay on his bull for at least eight seconds in order to receive a qualifying score. Cowboys and bulls are judged by a pair of judges, with each judge assessing a score to both the rider and the bull. Twenty-five points goes to the cowboy and twenty-five to the bull, for a perfect score equaling 100 points. The cowboy is scored on a variety of points, including his overall body position, spurring motion, and ability to stay centered over the bull's back. The bull's score is based on the strength of his bucks, his spinning motion and enthusiasm during the ride. If the rider dismounts before the 8-second timer goes off, or if he slaps the bull with his free hand, the pair receives a no score.

Necessary Gear

Bull riders require very little in the way of mandatory gear. Jeans, long-sleeved, button-up shirts and heeled boots are standard attire, and most cowboys top off their outfit with a cowboy hat. Clothing regulations vary by governing organization, and these rules are normally outlined in the organization or event rule books. Before each ride, the cowboy protects his hand with a leather glove. Every bull rider must have a sturdy bull rope. This heavy-duty piece of gear is made from smaller pieces of braided rope, and circles the bull's body. The cowboy tightens the rope and wraps it around his hand to steady himself and prevent an early dismount. In order to give the rope a little extra sticking power, the cowboy rubs a handful of resin over the rope. The resin heats up with friction, and the rope sticks to itself to stay wrapped around the rider's hand. Spurs are not a necessity, but most cowboys wear them, since spurring action is a valuable part of their overall score.

Optional Gear

While they are not mandatory yet, many cowboys choose to wear extra protective gear during their rides. Helmets are not uncommon in the arena, and protect the rider's head and face in the event of an ugly dismount. Safety vests are growing in popularity with cowboys in various organizations, and protect the cowboy's vital organs. These vests were implemented due in part to the tragic death of Lane Frost, a former World Champion bull rider who was gored to death in the arena. Some bulls are particularly mean and will zone in on a dismounted rider, and these vests can save lives. Many cowboys balk at the idea of wearing safety gear, claiming it is too heavy and restrictive to facilitate a clean ride. Vests may be a requirement at some rodeos, so check the rules before you pay your entry fee. As technology becomes more advanced, vests and helmets are lighter and allow more freedom of movement to give cowboys a clean ride and protect them from potentially deadly accidents.

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