The Macho Challenge: Riding the Bulls

The Macho Challenge: Riding the Bulls    

Tara A. Spears

Reader Advisory: This extreme sport -with graphic photos- may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

One of the oldest forms of extreme sports is bull riding competition. From the original 1500s ranch challenges among workers, bull riding has evolved into a professional profession that is revered in many countries. Events are even featured on cable TV! There is a pro bull riding circuit that travels around the country; and Saturday, 30 May, La Penita is hosting a pro bull riding event as the grand finale to its Patron Festival. What makes this Jaripeo extra special is that the promoters have contracted quality livestock for the event. Yep, the headliners are pro bulls!

Most livestock breeders and cattlemen show respect for their animals. Science and genetics is an integral part of raising bulls, especially for use in rodeo performances. As American bull rider (retired) and trainer of rodeo stock, Jerome Davis explains: “Modern cattle ranching demonstrates how integral recorded data and genetics are to breeding winning bucking cattle. The goal is to achieve an athletic bull with just the right amount of ‘heat’ or aggression.”

“We don’t want a bull that’s too mean as they wear themselves out,” explains Mr. Davis. “They can also flip over in the bucking chute and get injured. But some ‘heat’ ensures a bull’s longevity.”

“Bucking bulls can carry infusions of Brahman, Mexican fighting bull, Watusi (African cattle), Charolais and Piedmontese genes. When they are to be ridden, bulls wear a flank strap that sits over their hips. Its role is to increase the tendency to kick out. This doesn’t hinder the bull in any way and the strap is not tied tight. In Canadian and US pro rodeo, a modern self-releasing strap is used to train young bulls. The weight is electronically released after four to six seconds. This simulation of an ‘out’ reveals whether the animal has the right stuff. Those not making the grade are sold as feeder cattle at the sale barn.”

According to the North American Corriente Association, “Criollo cattle can be found throughout the Western Hemisphere and some Criollo have been developed into unique breeds, e.g., the tropically adapted Romosinuano. Other Criollo cattle were responsible for the genetics that led to the Longhorn breed. The resurgence of sport rodeo rekindled interest in Mexican cattle frequently referred to as Corriente or Mexican fighting bulls. Corriente cattle have been selected and raised primarily as sports cattle, used mainly for team roping and bulldogging.” Raising a bad bucking bull is serious business and just any cow won’t do.

Mexican style bull riding: Sometime the riders line up in the center of the ring to draw their ride. To build up anticipation and excitement, the rodeo emcee gives a description of each participating bull. Each cowboy draws a piece of paper to see which bull is his for the round. After leaving the ring, the riders prepare for the event by putting on equipment such as spurs or shin guards and often wrapping their fingers or entire hand with tape or elastic bandage for better gripping. The amount of protective gear varies but the casual participant may go just in regular clothes.

The last step of preparation is to put their hat that typically is snug. Often the competitors will stretch to warm-up as they wait their turn near the chutes. The cattlemen put the bull in the chute and the rider eases down onto the mammoth animal. Each cowboy seems to have his own good luck routine: one will stomp his legs three times before mounting; another will grab a handful of dirt before climbing the gate. The rodeo workers tense as they must be ready open the door as soon as time is called: they yank the cinch tight simultaneously with pulling open the gate. The bull comes out fast, bucks, turns, and twists to try to throw off the rider.

The band plays a rousing Mexican ballad about riding the bulls as announcer calls the next rider. Each attempt to ride a massive bull passes in a flash: most of the riders quickly get tossed. Those riders that do manage to last only need to stay on until the 8 second buzzer. While not for the faint hearted, it is an adrenaline rush to see man versus beast.