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Bull Riding

Photo by Richard Field Levine.

Photo by Richard Field Levine.
In a time when action-packed, adrenalin-filled "extreme sports" are the latest craze, it only seems natural that bull riding would become rodeo's most popular event. The risks are obvious. Serious injury is always a possibility for those fearless or foolish enough to sit astride an animal that weighs a ton and is usually equipped with dangerous horns. But cowboys do it and fans love it. Bull riding is dangerous and predictably exciting, demanding intense physical prowess and supreme mental toughness. Like bareback and saddle bronc riders, the bull rider may use only one hand to stay aboard during the eight-second ride. If he touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he receives no score. But unlike the other roughstock events, bull riders are not required to mark out their animals. While spurring a bull can add to the cowboy's score, riders are commonly judged on their ability to stay aboard the twisting, bucking ton of muscle and rage. Balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and a good mental attitude are the stuff good bull riders are made of. To stay aboard the bull, a rider uses a flat braided rope, which is wrapped around the barrel of the bull's chest just behind the front legs and over its withers. One end of the bull rope, called the tail, is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the bull. The rider then wraps the tail around his hand, sometimes weaving it through his fingers to further secure his grip. Then he nods his head, the chute gate swings open and he and the bull explode into the arena. Every bull is unique in its bucking style. A bull may dart to the left, then to the right, then rear back. Some spin, or continuously circle in one spot in the arena. Others add jumps or kicks to their spins, while others might jump and kick in a straight line, or move side to side while bucking.