Bull Riding Basics

All the Details about Bull Riding at the Rodeo

Galisteo Rodeo, bull rider, Sant Fe, New Mexico, USA
micadew/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Bull riding is perhaps the most recognized and popular of all rodeo events. It is also the most dangerous. It's often said about bull riding that "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 understanding the rules of the sport will make for a more enjoyable spectator experience.

Nuts and Bolts of Bull Riding

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 in the matchups.

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

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 eight seconds is the main priority. After the ride, bull riders are aided by bullfighters or rodeo clowns and barrel men who distract the bull, allowing the Cowboys to escape safely.

How Bull Riding Is Judged

Judges award points based on how both riders and their animals perform.

Scoring is the same as in the other rough-stock events. Two judges give between 1 and 25 points for the cowboy's performance and between 1 and 25 points for the animal's performance. One hundred points is the maximum and is considered a perfect ride.

A good score in bull riding is in the 90s. There has been one perfect score of 100 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Bull Riding Equipment

To ride, bull riders use a bull rope and a rosin. The bull rope 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 bull rope around the bull and use the remainder to wrap around their hand tightly, trying to secure themselves to the bull.

Bull Riding's Popularity

Bull riding requires balance, flexibility, coordination, and courage. Facing down a 2,000-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 tour, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.