Bullriding Basics: How to Stay on a Bull

A junior bull rider hangs on tight right out of the chute.

Tony Sergo / Flickr

Some people are under impression that riding a bull for eight seconds is a piece of cake. Bulls are born to buck and take joy in unseating even the most confident cowboys. Bull riders are highly-trained athletes who spend years honing their skills while avoiding a literal ton of potentially life-ending, angry bovine flesh. Staying aboard a twisting, bucking bull takes a combination of skills, training and a little bit of luck.

Training is Vital

Behind each successful 8-second ride is years of training. Aspiring bull riders often learn from older, experienced riders at local rodeos, and this is the perfect venue for finding a mentor. Many riders offer lessons to up and coming riders to help them hone their skills and learn the ins and outs of the sport. Bull riding trade magazines are also valuable resources, as they offer listings for trainers and lessons, as well as gear and supplies.

Observe your trainer closely, taking notes and asking questions to make sure you understand proper methods for staying on the bull. Ride as often as possible, starting with smaller, gentler steers and working your way up to larger, more aggressive bulls as directed by your instructor. The more rides you get under your belt, the more experience you'll have with a variety of bulls.

Get the Proper Equipment

Before you climb astride a bull, you need to have the proper equipment. Bull riders stay on the back of the animal with a bull rope, twisting it around their hand and holding on for dear life. A thick leather bull riding glove will literally save your skin. Pick a glove that is thick enough to protect your hand, but thin enough to allow for complete flexibility of all your fingers.

A bull rope is the next item on the list, and a proper rope is the only thing saving you from a painful stomping. Buy a rope with medium firmness, as the stiffer the rope, the easier it is to grip. The last piece of necessary equipment is a bar of rosin. Rub the rosin over the tail of the rope before wrapping it around your hand. Friction heats up the rosin, creating a gummy, glue-like texture that prevents the rope from slipping to keep you on the bull.

Watch the Bull

While it may seem like common sense, few riders actually watch the bull they're slated to ride. Get to the venue early and observe the bull you've drawn as he moves around the pen. Is he aggressive with other animals or does he stick to himself in the corner? Aggressive animals will often buck harder and move faster than more passive animals. If the bull is being ridden by another rider before your go-round, watch him in the arena.

Does he charge out of the chute and buck hard, or does he drop is head and spin? Pay attention to the bull when he's in the chute for your ride. When the chute opens, watch the position of the bull's head. If he keeps his nose straight, he's most likely to hop out of the gate and buck straight. If his nose tips either left or right, he's planning to spin and you should shift your weight slightly to compensate.

Hold on Tight

Keep your hand tightly closed over the bull rope. Your riding arm is essentially your balance point during your ride, and if you open your hand, you'll start to slide off. Use your thighs and knees to squeeze the bull's side for extra grip. When the bull shifts forward and bucks, lean forward over your arm to stay square over your rope. As he lifts his front end up and rears back to jump, keep your hips square and your weight down in the seat of your pants.

Stay as close to the center of the bull's back to keep from sliding off during a spin; even a shift as small as an inch or two will throw you off balance and you'll be eating dirt before you can blink. Use your free hand as a rudder to maintain balance, but keep it away from the bull. If you inadvertently smack the bull during your ride, you will receive a no score. When you hear the buzzer and it's time to dismount, tug your rope loose with your free hand and roll to the outside of the bull. Get on your feet as quickly as possible and move out of the area while you wait for your score.