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The Bull Riders – Part V

Making 8

The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’

Well, we have come to the finals of our story about the professional bull rider. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a bit about what makes these guys tick. I would like to thank all the riders who were kind enough to speak with me and entertain my questions. For a complete novice coming to the sport of bull riding, I was surprised at how generous they were with their knowledge. A great group of athletes that could use your support. Here’s some links to get you started.

Before we go, make sure to sign up for our free monthly ‘Good Newsletter’. One of the images from this story will be made into February’s free computer desktop calendar so don’t miss it. Heck, leave a comment below to vote for an image from this story. The one with the most votes wins.

Here is a quick movie I shot of Ryan Dirteater making 8 @ 240 frames per second.

Austin Meier
Austin Meier Denver PBR 2012

Ryan Dirteater
Ryan Dirteater PBR Denver 2012

Francisco Morales
Francisco Morales Denver PBR 2012

Again, thanks to all the riders, staff, and fans who helped make this story possible. Be safe guys and we’ll be cheering for you!

The Bull Riders – Part IV

The Pre Game


The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’

I interviewed quite a few cowboys over the 3 days I was at the PBR, but the guys I talked to the most were Austin Meier (left) and Ryan Dirteater (right). They were actually the first guys I talked to. I showed up early, hoping to get a lay of the land, and they were hanging out in the stands tweeting with their fans. Those guys gave me a good 1/2 hour to chat about training and the sport of bull riding. Good guys to follow, you can find them here on Twitter.

PBR Denver Austin Meiers and Ryan Dirteater

Today we are going to take a look at those hours before the riders get on their bulls to compete. However, before we do that, I want to take a second to let you know what Austin shared with me about how he trains off the bull. Of the guys I spoke to, Austin seemed to have one of the most focused and regimented programs. Here is what he does to improve his bull riding.

  • Austin counts calories. You would think that bull riders are bulked up guys who try to muscle the bull. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They are lean, flexible, super efficient athletes. Why? Simple physics. The more weight, whether it is fat or muscle, that is further from your center of gravity, the harder it is to hold on as the bull spins and bucks.
  • He runs a lot. Part of his cardio conditioning as well as calorie burning comes from running. It is a daily component of his training.
  • He does yoga, lot’s of yoga. He does yoga, not only for the flexibility benefits, but to strengthen his core. The key to a bull rider’s success lies in their ability to stay centered over the bull. To do this, you need core strength….lots of it!
  • He practices his technique at home. No, not on the bull, although he might have a few back at the ranch? He actually has a mechanical bull that allows him to hone specific elements of his technique. You are probably thinking he goes to the local bar and wows the crowd with his mechanical bull riding skills. Although I’m sure he could put the local hero to shame, his training bull is at home and is built on a system of pulleys that he has someone else operate.
  • Austin summed it up when he likened his training to that of a gymnast.

Count Down To Go Time

After the riders arrive and the area, send out a few tweets, and get a meal in them, they unload their gear and start their preparations. Here is a quick look at what happens before the chutes open.

1) They rosin up their gloves and rope. Heat quickly turns a dry piece of tree sap into a natural adhesive.
PBR Denver 2012

2) They texture and fray their ropes, ensuring they won’t slip.
PBR Denver 2012

3) They seek the medical services provided to them by the PBR. A riders condition is shared by medical staff at different venues. They are always looking out for the best interest of the rider. Although, as one rider left the medical offices, he jokingly said….”bull riding is not in my best interest”.
PBR Denver 2012

Francisco Morales prefers to perform his own medical duties. He learned how to splint his arm from the PTs on staff, now he does it himself as part of his pre-game ritual. There isn’t much time to heal in a 10 month season. Remember, these guys don’t get paid unless they compete and win. He’s riding with a hyperextended elbow.
PBR Denver 2012

4) They chat with friends and take a look at the arena. Anything to help them relax I guess.
PBR Denver 2012

5) They dress their bull.
PBR Denver 2012

PBR Denver 2012

6) They sit alone in line with their bull as they both make their way to the arena floor.
PBR Denver 2012

7) Once they are up, and their bull is in the chute, whoever is standing on deck helps the rider get settled. This involves holding him in place if the bull starts to buck as he gets his grip dialed in. I asked a few riders what is going through their mind at this point. Some like to play it loose and joke with their buddies. Some focus on the game at hand, while others don’t think about a thing….their mind goes blank and they wait for the bull to move.
PBR Denver 2012

8) The chute guy gets really stressed out.

PBR Denver

9) This guy jumps into the bleachers when he pulls the chute door open.
PBR Denver

10) Once that chute door opens, and the cowboy is alone with the bull, years of training and practice turns itself into a finely honed survival instinct.
PBR Denver

Tomorrow, we conclude our story of ‘The Bull Riders’ with a few images of these guys making 8!

The Bull Riders – Part III

The Gear

The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’

Today we will take a look at the Bull Rider’s gear. Surprisingly, it is not a very gear intensive sport. The rider and the bull are pretty much one…well, at least for 8 seconds if everything goes according to plan. Tomorrow we go behind the scenes and follow the athletes as they prepare for event.

The Boot – The bull rider keeps himself on the bull with leg and core strength. Unlike the horse riders, they don’t have stirrups. They simply use the power of their legs to keep them centered over the bull’s back. That being said, they don’t want their boots coming off. A saddle bronc rider will actually put baby powder in their boot so their foot can slide out easier if they are bucked. A bull rider ties his boot on as tight as he can. If a bull rider gets hung up, the rodeo clowns actually have to run out and cut them free as the bull is bucking.
PBR Denver Boot

The Protection – More and more bull riders are choosing to wear both a flack jacket and helmet. I would guess about 80% of them are protecting themselves with a helmet. I can’t blame them. I witnessed a rider take a blow to the head, and walk away with a mild concussion. I’m guessing if he didn’t have the helmet on, things would have turned out much worse. If I were ever to win the PBR championship, and they sent me home with a million dollar check, you bet the next day I would have a helmet on. I would want to enjoy the fruits of my labor for as long as I could.

The Rawl – I didn’t know this, but the spur is what sticks out from the boot, the rawl is spiny thing that chimes when cowboys walk into a saloon. Unlike gunfighters and horse riders, a bull riders rawl is locked down so that they can hold on to the bull better. The rawl is also filed down so that it doesn’t harm the bull.
Bull Riders Boot

The Rope – Other than balance and the strength of the rider’s legs, the rope is all they have to keep them on the bull. Some riders tie it tight, others keep it loose. Basically, it is has a small handle where they grip it and a bell to weigh it down so that it slides off when they break free. A bull rider’s rope will last between one and three years depending on the rider. Prior to the event, they coat it in a resin (tree sap) and glycerin to make it sticky and easier to hold on to.
PRB The Rope

The Glove – It is what it is. It keeps their hands protected and improves their hold on the rope. Most of the riders will tape it tight above their writs. Much like the boot, they don’t want it coming off.
PRB Glove

The Bull Riders – Part II

The Event

The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’

PBR Denver

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”.

PRB Denver Lance Britton

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.

The Bull Riders – Part I

PBR Denver

The Complete Story of ‘The Bull Riders’

Up until last week, I knew very little about the sport of professional bull riding. For me, it was what came on after the Tour de France on Versus. However, as an athlete, I have always been fascinated by the the bull riders themselves and what they do to train for their sport. When the PBR was coming through Denver, I decided I would set out to do a story on these guys and find out exactly what it takes in terms of training, mental preparation, equipment, and motivation to get on top of a 2000 lbs animal that really doesn’t want you there. Over the course of this week, in my story ‘The Bull Riders’, I hope to share what I found. I spent the week learning about the PBR and interviewing guys like Austin Meier, Ryan Dirteater, Francisco Morales,and Silvana Alves. I quickly discovered these are some of the nicest guys you will ever meet. They were incredibly generous with their knowledge and time. Other than a few issues with language barriers, not only was I able to get all my questions answered, I had some great conversations. I hope that over the next week, I can help shed some light on these guys, so that you too will understand what it means to be bull rider.