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Bull Riding Basics

Arguably the most dangerous event in rodeo tournaments, bull riding attracts the bravest cowboys and the largest crowds. The potential for the rider to be injured is almost palpable from the moment the bull is released until the ride ends (and sometimes, afterwards). Sitting on top of a full-grown bull (within inches of fully-grown horns), a cowboy must use his strength, control and quick thinking to avoid being thrown from the bull's back. When they're unable to maintain their grip, cowboys are tossed onto the ground and become a target for the bull's sharp horns. In this article, we'll give you an overview of bull riding, including how scoring works, the equipment used and why rodeo clowns can literally save lives.

How Bull Riding Works

The sheer power of a bull threatens the life of the rider. Before the rider and bull enter the arena, they're positioned into a narrow chute to control the bull's movements. A barrier blocks their entry onto the field. Once the barrier falls, the bull launches violently into the arena and tries to throw the rider from its back. The rider clings to a bull rope and attempts to remain seated for 8 seconds. If he's successful in doing so, he's awarded a score.

Similar to bronc riding, both rider and bull receive scores from 2 judges. In awarding points to the rider, judges consider the level of control he demonstrated during the ride. This includes how balanced and rhythmic his movements were with the bull's bucking. Judges will also award points based on how well the rider controls the bull.

The judges award points to the bull for the agility it displays along with its raw power and speed during the event. A bull that performs extreme bucking moves such as "Sunfishing" (a move in which the bull is literally airborne while kicking its feet sideways) earns more points. Scores for the rider and the bull are based on a 0-50 scale. Any score above 80 is considered an excellent performance.

Equipment Used For Bull Riding

The rider holds onto a bull rope that is tied around the bull's neck. The rope has a cowbell that acts as a makeshift weight and is coated with a rosin to prevent it from slipping from the cowboy's grasp. Because the ride is so violent, bull riders wear leather gloves to avoiding getting a rope burn on their hands. Chaps are worn to protect the rider's legs while many also wear protective vests (though the vests are not required). The last piece of the cowboy's ensemble is a pair of dull-spurred boots. The spurs are used by the rider to earn extra points for displaying style.

Why Rodeo Clowns Are Used

The bulls used for this event are extremely dangerous. If a rider is thrown from its back, it will often target the rider with its horns. Because of this, rodeo clowns are a critical part of the competition. Their job is to distract the bull so the rider can either walk from the arena or be carried out safely, if injured. Rodeo clowns usually work in teams. Each member of the team uses a variety of props and techniques to grab the bull's attention and direct it away from the rider.

Bull riding continues to draw enormous crowds of spectators. The cowboys who compete in this event are all but revered by fans. Their bravery, strength and tenacity in the arena make bull riding one of the most popular events in professional rodeo. But, the risk is great. Riders have been gored and have lost their lives in the past. In spite of this, bull riding will likely be an integral part of rodeo tournaments for the foreseeable future.