The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’
Before we get into the story of the individual athletes and what it takes for them to ride bulls, I thought it would be best to understand the competition. The event itself is 3 days long. During the first 2 days, 50 or so riders get a single shot at making it to the finals. They each draw a random bull assignment which they will have to ride. The first 2 days are called the long rounds. If you stay on for 8 seconds, you get scored, if not, you go home. A rider’s score is the sum of his performance plus that of the bull’s for a possible total of 100pts. A good score is in the 80s, a great score is in the 90s. After the first two nights of longs rounds, the top performing riders and top performing bulls move on to the third night. At this point, the best riders are riding the best bulls. Remember, the bulls are considered athletes and scored accordingly. The scores from this round (known as the progressive or short round) are added to the scores of the long round to determine which of the best 15 riders move on to the finals. Finally, the top 15 riders ride the 15 best bulls. Their scores from this round are added to the average score of their two previous rounds to determine the overall winner. (Note: If a PBR official or fan is reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong.)
The bull rider himself can’t be understood unless you understand what they are up against. After interviewing several of the riders and observing them for three days it became clear, they aren’t competing against one another. They are one of the most supportive group of athletes I have ran into. They are competing against themselves as they attempt to ride an animal that can do something like this to you with out batting an eye. Their job is just too dangerous to let ego get in the way.
Also, this story of the professional bull rider can’t be told without a look at the team that tries to protect them. In the image above, bull fighter Lance Brittan takes one for the team as he makes a save. He was slow getting up, but once he did he was back at it. The bull fighters are there to distract the bull once the rider has broke free. These guys put their lives on the line, and as one rider told me “They are part of the team”.
Secondly, the medical staff that is on hand is second to none. They are a specialized group of doctors, nurses, and therapists that support and advise the athletes. However, unlike an NFL, NHL, or NBA medial staffer, they have no say in whether the rider competes or not. Bull riding is unique in the fact that these guys don’t have contracts or guaranteed money. If they want to make a living and go to the next event, they have to compete. Don Andrews best described it by saying the riders are “Athlete, GM, coach, and trainer all rolled into one.”.
Come back tomorrow as we will be taking a look at the gear these riders use day in and day out.